Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by William Godsoe Rigby

1. I am a former Mathematics teacher who rose to Head of Department. I took early retirement last year to further my career as a Maths Consultant and I currently hold various positions with examining bodies.

2. I taught Mathematics for 30 years in a number of schools including Middle schools and a High school/Sixth Form College.

3. In addition, I have worked as a Mathematics Examiner/Senior Examiner/Chief Examiner/Chief Moderator for a number of examining boards since my early days of teaching in the early 1980s.

4. I was also a member of the former QCA KS2 Test Panel for Mathematics.

5. This brief memorandum supports whole-heartedly many of the outstanding initiatives to promote good teaching and learning in Mathematics that examining bodies undertake, in addition to their roles as Assessment providers. This lack of monopolistic power is a vital element of the education system in England and Wales. I am sure that observers that are called to give oral evidence will expand upon these points far more eloquently than I, hence I will move on to my main points.

6. In my considerable experience there is one examining board that is less interested in providing quality Mathematics education, however and it is privately owned by the Pearson group. I do not believe that private gain should have any role in education and following the fiasco with KS3 tests in the recent past I would encourage the committee not to recommend a return to a single examining provider, especially when they are non-public. Whilst the very large majority of examining boards (charitable in some cases) work to the standards and guidelines set by Ofqual, or its predecessors, I have experience of and continue to see the Edexcel examining board doing otherwise.

7. We see Ofsted “showing its teeth” when it feels the need to do so. Why then, does Ofqual not do the same? The regulator is not currently regulating in my view and it is not enforcing a consistency of standard across the industry.

8. To give an example, last April myself along with a significant number of Chief Examiners for Functional Skills Mathematics from all examining boards, were invited by Ofqual to compare a sample of Level 1 and 2 FS Maths papers. Whilst we worked solidly for 3 days comparing and delivering full evaluations of each question on each paper to the Ofqual staff, we were told a report would be presented documenting our findings at a later date.

9. One of the examining boards was found, not only by myself but by a number of other CEs to be providing consistently easier examinations (not matching the FS criteria) than the other boards, whilst at the same time it had the lowest grade boundaries for a student to achieve a L1 or L2 qualification!

10. I alerted a senior member of the Ofqual staff to this clear discrepancy and was assured that this would be picked up in the CEs grading and would be in the published documentation. It did concern me however; to be told that a number of Ofqual staff was recent employees of Edexcel.I had witnessed this situation before at QCA.

11. To this day I have neither seen nor heard of any Ofqual report being published, nor those vital statistics being in the public domain.

12. Again, earlier this year, one of my Standardisation meetings was inspected by an Ofqual representative. I welcomed his input only to discover that he was not a Mathematician! I am pleased to see that Ofqual have advertised for subject specialists and this is an excellent move in the right direction.

13. As the “new” Mathematics GCSE curriculum began in Sept 2010, all examining boards were required by QCDA to produce specimen papers which met their required standard. For some examining boards this was a big shift from producing Maths GCSE exams which merely tested the content of the KS4 National Curriculum to questions where students are required to think, use and apply their knowledge to the individual question. Needless to say, under the new specifications (for first certification next June) it is harder for a student to gain a grade C than it was previously. Or at least that was the intention. A great opportunity to raise the standards of teaching and learning and give students the Mathematical ability to have transferable skills for their lifetime and not just to pass an examination. As these new exams can be modular, the first exams were taken last March for all boards. What did all exam boards find? Students, not surprisingly, found these exams more difficult. But rather than stick to the regulations, Edexcel (realising they could lose market share) sent out their Senior Examiners to centres telling them that now their papers had been passed by the regulator, the next papers would be much easier. Sure enough, last June, the questions were more like the old(legacy) questions and they were back to square one whilst the other boards consistently provide challenging papers with the correct balance of AOs1,2 and 3,functionality and percentage allocations for levels.Ofqual saw this and raised the Edexcel grade boundaries, but they are missing the point. For as long as a single exam board is allowed to provide easier examinations, even if its quality is not that which is required, there will never be consistency and improvements in teaching and learning will only be sporadic. At a time when we need our youngsters to have the best possible Mathematical education, this is being compromised by Edexcel policy and Ofqual are failing in their remit.

14. My final point is that with the influence of Pearson, Edexcel have secured an “additional window” next March with an examination on the old(legacy) specification. No other exam boards were allowed to do this but I am only too aware of the influence that Pearson has in the education of the youngsters in our country. More importantly, the influence it appears to have with Ofqual and the former DCSF. This should never have been allowed as schools are simply “teaching to the test” with vast entries from years 10 and 11 to get their “C” at the cost of their real Mathematical education. Pressure from Headteachers on Heads of Mathematics to get them up the league tables is the root of all these problems, rather than giving their students Mathematics for Life!

15. In the above I have given a factual account of my experiences. I do believe in a market with various examining boards, many of whom provide a very good service and I see no good coming from a single government based exam board. However, Ofqual must have the same strength re exam boards as Ofsted with schools and with subject specialists from next year this is a positive move. I continue to be concerned with the power of Pearson in the education lobby, apparently allowing its satellites to run rough-shod over DfE policy and find its position a most dangerous and unhealthy one.

December 2011

Prepared 2nd July 2012