Exam boards need to improve the quality of their marking to win back teachers’ trust, the head of the biggest school awarding body has admitted.
Andrew Hall, AQA chief executive, told a meeting in Parliament yesterday that there had been “wavering confidence in the exam boards” and other parts of the industry.
“There is a lot of trust to be rebuilt in the whole system,” he added later. “Trust has to be earned and it has been eroding and that has created challenges with the assessment system.”
Asked afterwards what the boards had to do to rebuild that trust, Mr Hall pinpointed the standard of marking of exam papers as a key issue.
“Quality of marking is an important thing,” he said. “It is probably my biggest sole objective within the industry to actually improve the quality of marking.”
Mr Hall also had views on what could be done. “It is not about whipping the teachers that are marking for us harder in the summer – faster, faster, more accurate,” he said.
“It is about designing assessments that are fundamentally more capable of being marked and you can have essay questions.
“We have a raft of research in AQA that is all about the type of mark scheme you design. You would think that accurate marking comes from really detailed 20-page mark schemes, but it doesn’t. It comes from having broad descriptors that the examiners can take within themselves and understand.”
He said that it was important to be open and transparent with teachers about the system. “People ask me who marks these exams when I go into schools. [I say] ‘people like you’,” he added. “Teachers mark all our assessments for us.”
Last year the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), representing elite independent schools, published a 92-page dossier detailing evidence of “widespread poor marking”.
Today, William Richardson, HMC general secretary, welcomed Mr Hall’s comments. “HMC has been encouraged in recent months by the clear intention of the main awarding bodies to review in fundamental ways the reliability of marking,” he said.
“We have had useful discussions with the boards and with Ofqual [the exams regulator].”
Malcolm Trobe, Association of School and College Leaders deputy general secretary, was also encouraged by AQA’s stance.
“It is better to be open about this than pretend that everything in the garden is rosy,” he said.
Mr Hall made his remarks at the launch of an AQA initiative to encourage debate on what assessment should look like by 2025.
He also told journalists that some pupils were taking too many exams. “Some students without doubt think – or are encouraged to think – that 14, 15 or 16 GCSEs is a good thing to do. My personal opinion is that it’s not,” he said.
Pupils should have time for other activities such as community work, Mr Hall said, not “exam after exam after exam”.
“There’s nothing wrong with a rigorous, solid education system,” he added. “But not exams for exams sake.”