Doubt cast on plans to restore public trust in exams system

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
New legislation will not be enough to rebuild confidence in qualifications, warns board chief

Ministers are not doing enough to restore trust in qualifications, and their centralised control over curriculum is only making matters worse, according to one of the most powerful men in exams.

Simon Lebus said this week there was "no doubt" that public confidence in the qualifications system was at a low ebb, which was why Ofqual was being set up as a new independent regulator.

But the chief executive of Cambridge Assessment - part of Cambridge University and parent company of OCR, one of England's big three exam boards - said: "I do not believe the arrangements introduced by the new legislation will be sufficient on their own to restore trust.

"This is partly because the long hand of central control continues to exert its influence through Government ownership of the curriculum."

Cambridge Assessment is concerned that the revised secondary national curriculum has been cut back in the wrong areas with key scientific concepts such as photosynthesis no longer stipulated.

But, Mr Lebus said at a Cambridge Assessment conference, the curriculum does require pupils to have the opportunity to consider how knowledge and understanding of science informed decisions on substance abuse and sexual health.

His comments were based on an analysis of the secondary science curriculum carried out by Tim Oates, Cambridge Assessment research director.

The revised 2007 curriculum was designed to reduce content and be less prescriptive, giving teachers freedom to develop their own approaches.

Mr Oates said: "Content has been reduced - that's a good thing. But the wrong considerations may have been used to drive this reduction.

"Rather than investigating key concepts and conceptual progression, ensuring that these make up a clear but economic statement of content, there has been an emphasis on a 'motivating' national curriculum, and one which includes an emphasis on contemporary social issues.

"The national curriculum in science should be neither motivating nor de-motivating. It should be a highly accurate map of key concepts, ordered in the correct sequence - indeed it should resemble a list more than it should resemble a manifesto for a particular view of science."

He also pointed to the July warning from John Crookes of the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, revealed in The TES, that new national curriculum flexibilities risked widening the achievement gap between the lowest and highest performing schools.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesperson said: "Teachers were clear that they wanted us to free up the curriculum.

"That's what we have done with the updated curriculum. It's being phased in at the moment and it's been extremely well-received by teachers and schools."

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