Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Rodger Williams

The help given to students during the production of coursework that was outside the Joint Council Qualification’s guidelines is well commented on and was one of the reasons behind the introduction of controlled assessments.

The JCQ’s GCSE and Functional Skills specifications, and Principal Learning units within Diploma Qualifications, Instructions for conducting controlled assessments, 1 September 2011 to 31 August 2012 states that:

“4.5.2 When marking the work, teachers/assessors must not give credit in regard to any additional assistance given to candidates beyond that which is described in the specification and must give details of any additional assistance on the appropriate record form(s). Examples would include:

having reviewed the candidate’s work giving (either to individual candidates or to groups) detailed advice and suggestions as to how the work may be improved in order to meet the assessment criteria;

giving detailed indications of errors or omissions which leave the candidate no opportunity for individual initiative;

giving advice on specific improvements needed to meet the criteria;

providing writing frames specific to the task (eg outlines, paragraph headings or section headings); and

intervening personally to improve the presentation or content of the work.

Before giving additional assistance beyond that which is described in the specification, teachers should ensure that there is provision to record this assistance and take account of it in the marking”.

However in guidance to centres the examination boards advice is still unclear. In terms of the feedback to students AQA Controlled Assessment guidance states “You should not, however: provide detailed/specific advice on how to improve drafts; give detailed feedback on errors/omissions; provide model answers or writing frames” and OCR GCSE in English guide to controlled assessment states “Teacher Feedback—Teachers may give feedback during the planning phase. They can also review planning and preparation and provide advice at a general level. This can be done to evaluate progress and propose broad approaches for improvement. It is not recommended that further teaching takes place in between sessions of the final assessment. However, teachers should not: provide specific advice on how to improve drafts; give detailed feedback on errors or omissions; provide model answers or writing frames to be used during the final assessment”.

On the candidate record form the students are asked to “I have read and understood the Information for candidates (GCSE, Functional Skills and Principal Learning: Controlled Assessments). I have produced the attached work without assistance other than that which is acceptable under the scheme of assessment”.

If a student has only received guidance from their teacher, then student would correctly sign the form, as they would have only acted under the guidance of their teacher.

On the same candidate record form the teacher is required to confirm that “1. the candidate’s work was conducted under the conditions laid out by the specification; 2. I have authenticated the candidate’s work and am satisfied that to the best of my knowledge the work produced is solely that of the candidate”.

If a teacher interprets “should not” as something that could be allowed, then they teacher would to correctly sign the form, as they would have only followed the guidance of the examination boards.

This is guidance is clearly open to interpretation and abuse by examination centres and so does not curb cheating in controlled assessments they were introduced to prevent. Further from OFQUAL’s report on controlled assessments, it is known that exam centres are experiencing difficulties in implementing controlled assessments The issues surround controlled assessments are also openly discussed in teaching, parent and student forums:

I contacted AQA regarding their guidlines this was their reply:

Response (Alexander Dixon)—27/10/2011 10.58 AM

Dear Mr Williams,

Thank you for your e-mail,

The phrase “should not” indicates very clearly that an action should not be done. For example, if you told a child they “should not do something” you would not expect them to interpret that as “you can do something”.

The statement “should not be providing detailed/specific advice on how to improve drafts; give detailed feedback on errors/omissions; provide model answers or writing frames” is open to interpretation on both professional and moral grounds. Please contact JCQ on 020 7638 4132 if you require a more detailed explanation. Alternatively you can visit JCQ’s web-site at or e-mail at

Kind regards,

Exam Office Support.

How can guidelines be “open to interpretation on both professional and moral grounds”?

I have contacted the JCQ and there reply was:

Dear Mr Williams

Thank you for your e-mail message. I shall retain your e-mail message on file and when I meet with the awarding bodies to review the JCQ publication Instructions for conducting controlled assessments for the academic year 2012/2013, I will ensure that your concerns are brought to their attention.

Yours sincerely

Nick Lait
Examinations and Committee Manager

Considering the examinations are to be candidates are to be certified in 2012 and any issues in assessments should have been resolved, I contacted the Secretary of State for Education, and this was the reply:

Dear Mr Williams

Thank you for your email of 7 November, addressed to the Secretary of State for Education, about controlled assessment guidance. I hope you are able to appreciate the Secretary of State receives a vast amount of correspondence and is unable to reply to each one personally. It is for this reason I have been asked to reply.

Grievances about JCQ and AQA’s guidance for marking GCSE and Functional Skills should be directed to the awarding body, which I understand you have already done in respect of AQA. The Government require awarding organisations to handle complaints relating to the qualifications they offer. You may also contact JCQ as AQA suggest in their reply, but if you are still unhappy with AQA and JCQ’s clarification you may contact Ofqual the exams regulator. Ofqual will only intervene if the awarding body have failed in their responsibility for handling issues effectively. Ministers cannot intervene in the responsibilities and decisions of the awarding bodies.

Thank you for writing to the Department with your concerns and I wish you every success for the future.

Yours sincerely

Sarah Thompson
Public Communications Unit

I am appalled that students are likely to miss their potential grades because some schools are not clear about the guidelines and other schools will take a “legal” definition of the guidelines, ie, we can because it does not explicitly state we can’t, and those responsible for exam regulations are not willing to accept responsibility for this.

Given the reaction by Mr Gove and the DoE to the report by The Daily Telegraph on exam standards, even though the DoE had already stated that ministers could not intervene in the responsibilities and decisions of the awarding bodies, I contacted both AQA and OFQUAL and below are their responses:

Response (Paula Hayes)—09/12/2011 11.39 AM
Dear Mr Williams

Thank you for your enquiry

AQA are regulated by OFQUAL (Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator) and JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) we have to follow their rules and polices in regards of control assessments. Please find their address below:

Spring Place,
Coventry Business Park,
Herald Avenue,
phone: 0300 303 3344

Joint Council for Qualifications
Veritas House
29 Great Peter Street
phone: 020 7638 4132

Kind regards
Exams Office Support

Dear Rodger,

Thank you for your further contact with Ofqual.

Ofqual is responsible for regulating organisations who award registered qualifications in England, and registered vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland.

If the review you are referring to is in response to the allegations highlighted in the press recently, we are taking the allegations very seriously and will be seeking to review any evidence which could indicate that the qualification system is being brought into question. Awarding organisations are bound to follow Ofqual regulatory Codes and practices, these should be vigorously followed when administering qualifications.

Where instances may come to light which indicates the regulations have been breached, discovered outside of Ofquals standard monitoring activities, there are a range of actions we are able to take to address them. This could be through an instruction to amend their practices along with enhanced monitoring activities of them to ensure they comply with the instruction. However in severe instances this could involve the removal of their awarding powers. Further information regarding the Telegraph report and our responses to it can be found via the link below:

We are unable to review previous complaints unless new evidence is presented. We would not be directly responsible for checking the quality of the work or the methods conducted by schools in relation to controlled assessments. This would need to be conducted by the relevant awarding organisation directly in the first instance. We do not investigate allegations against schools or colleges, our regulations require the relevant awarding organisation to investigate any allegations of malpractice.

We know from the research we have done on controlled assessment, which included the English suite of subjects, that the Awarding Organisations are working to increase consistency of practice in terms of the guidance given to administer controlled assessments. If you are unhappy with the approach that an awarding organisation have taken I would advise discussing this further with them.

Kind regards,

Amelia Hopkins
Customer Service & Complaints Officer, Ofqual

So given that:

AQA, and other the exam boards, cannot guarantee that controlled assessments have been written under the same controlled conditions across exam centres.

OFQUAL know from their research that Awarding Organisations are still working to increase the consistency of practice in terms of the guidance given to administer controlled assessments.

The control conditions for conducting GCSE English controlled assessments are high, and virtually the same as the written examinations, so there should be no difficulty in ensuring exam centres follow the guidelines.

Controlled assessments are not going prevent, as they are designed for, discrepancies in candidates written examination and controlled assessment marks (as was the case with coursework) and cheating.

The inconsistency in controlled assessments, especially in English and ICT as it worth 60% of the marks awarded, is going to have a far greater impact on candidate’s results than any inside information given by examiners on the written examinations.

Why are the exam boards, JCQ, OFQUAL, DfE and the Minister for Education not willing to accept the ultimate responsibility for the administration of controlled assessments and prevent the tens of thousands of candidates that will be denied their potential grades and schools from receiving an unwarranted failing status?

January 2012

Prepared 2nd July 2012