Technology 'could end summer exam season'

Online tests would allow pupils to sit GCSEs when they're ready and could end financial 'stranglehold' of exam boards, says ASCL official

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The rise of new technologies could mark the death knell of the summer exam season, a committee of MPs has heard.

Duncan Baldwin, deputy policy director of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the Commons Education Select Committee today that online testing would allow pupils to sit GCSEs when they were ready, and could end the financial "stranglehold" of exam boards on schools. 

The education committee was hearing evidence this morning as part of its inquiry into the so-called "fourth industrial revolution" – the economic upheaval that some people predict will accompany the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence. 

Mr Baldwin said that many pupils are currently forced to sit exams when they are not ready to do so. However, he said using technology to "facilitate assessment, including external, public assessment", could change this. 

"The assumption that they’re all ready and all honed to take their GCSEs all at the same time in May when they’re 16 is just flawed," he told the committee. "You can see that if you look at the policy about retaking maths and retaking English, and so on – youngsters aren’t all ready to get to a certain point at that point."

But Mr Baldwin added that young people no longer needed to be assessed in this way because "online testing is so powerful and so adaptive". 

As well as allowing candidates to take exams when they were ready, Mr Baldwin said such a development could save money for schools: "There’s a bit of a stranglehold on the school system by awarding organisations…schools are spending a lot of money putting [pupils] through [exams]. A cheaper way of delivering that – through online testing when students are ready – I think would save money and have a much better impact on youngsters."

Mr Baldwin said this form of testing would have the biggest effect on a "forgotten third" of pupils who are currently failing to get good passes in English and maths. 

"If there were tests that were available, which weren’t English literature at GCSE, but actually reading with a purpose and communication and so on, that could be accessed when students were ready, even before 16, but certainly [by the ages of] 16 and 17," he said. "I think that would do a lot to help the problem that we have created with reform.”

Mr Baldwin is not the first person to predict that new technology could revolutionise the exam sector. In an interview with Tes earlier this year, former chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, Simon Lebus, said that emerging technologies could herald the end of public examinations altogether

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