What is OCR? Your guide to the GCSE exam board

As part of a new series on the UK's exam boards, Tes answers questions about the history of OCR and its current work

Tes Editorial

The GCSE exam board OCR was established in 1998 following the merger of UCLES and RSA

What is OCR exam board?

OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA) sets and assesses GCSEs, A levels and a wide range of vocational courses.

It is one of the main examination boards used in the UK but is also part of Europe’s largest assessment agency, operating in over 150 different countries.

There are several examination boards that are able to set and award qualifications, such as GCSEs and A levels, to pupils in state schools and colleges across the UK. 

All exam boards follow strict guidelines from Ofqual (the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) to regulate standards and ensure parity, but the layout, content and format of exams varies from board to board. 

Schools and colleges, therefore, have a choice of which exam board they will use for each subject, and must look carefully at each specification to decide which awarding body and qualification they will choose. Decisions can be based on the amount of papers, weightings of units and ratios of written exams to non-exam assessment, as well as specific content covered by the course.

Who owns OCR?

Operating as a charity, OCR is governed by an executive team (led by CEO Jill Duffy), which ensures the management and day-to-day running of assessment, operations, products, and sales and marketing between them.  

How long has OCR been around?

OCR was established in 1998 following the merger of UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate) and RSA (an exam board offering vocational qualifications since the 1850s). 

It is part of the Cambridge Assessment Group, which manages the University of Cambridge’s three exam boards and is the largest awarding body in Europe. OCR has traditional academic examination roots, but also a strong vocational background due to the nature of its legacy boards.

What subjects does OCR cover?

OCR offers GCSEs and A levels in more than 40 subjects, including the core subjects of maths, English and science, but also a range of languages, humanities and creative arts subjects. It also offers more than 450 vocational qualifications, spanning fields of industry including business, ICT, health and social care, and media.  

What is OCR's appeals process?

Centres or individual candidates can request a review of marking/moderation or a clerical check to ensure correct and accurate procedures have been carried out during the assessment of a student or centre’s work. 

Access to copies of examination scripts is available at a cost and these may be used to determine whether or not a centre feels it has grounds to request such a review or indeed begin a referral for appeal.

Appeals may be made due to concerns surrounding the application of the mark scheme (and a disagreement with the review of this or procedures involved), outcomes regarding malpractice, and access arrangements or special consideration decisions. 

The appeal itself must focus on whether or not the awarding body has followed all necessary procedures fairly and accurately, in line with the guidance from the JCQ (the Joint Council for Qualifications).

These appeals must be made within 30 days of a review outcome or within two calendar weeks of receiving the malpractice or assessment decision. If the centre/candidate is still dissatisfied with the final judgement, they can apply to have their case heard in a meeting with the Appeals Committee.

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