Experts give AQA a failing grade over job loss plans

16th January 2015 at 00:00
Fears that the board's proposals to cut 100 posts will hurt quality

Exam officers fear that a decision by England's biggest school exam board to slash its operations staff by a third risks jeopardising the reliability of results.

TES has learned that AQA is cutting its operations division from 306 to 204 and that several more staff are leaving through voluntary redundancy.

The Examination Officers' Association has contacted the board to express alarm about the changes, despite reassurances from AQA that it will be able to deliver the same level of service and support after the cuts.

Andrew Harland, the association's chief executive, said: "We know that members of the AQA regional support team have gone, so there is clear evidence that they cannot and will not be able to deliver that same valued service. This idea that everything is happy in the garden is not the case at all."

A senior manager who recently left the exam board expressed similar concerns, and fears errors in results.

"I would expect there to be more mistakes," the former employee told TES. "It might well mean the wrong marks going out - that things have not been checked properly, that the correct mark has not gone to the appropriate student."

All 306 operations staff across the board's Manchester, Guildford and Harrogate offices have had to reapply for jobs as a result of the changes. Mr Harland said his association had already noticed a decline in the board's previously good service. "They have been reducing events, which have moved over to email and [online] forums as opposed to face-to-face contact," he said.

The former manager, who wished to remain anonymous, predicted long-term problems at AQA because of the amount of experience the board was losing. "The problem is that exams processing is a very complicated business," the manager said. "You can't just pull people in off the street to do that work."

The change from a modular to a linear exam system, with a limit on the number of resits, has placed financial pressure on all school exam boards in England. AQA cut more than 50 jobs from its IT and "change management" departments in October 2013. OCR also began a major wave of job losses that month and Edexcel has conducted its own staffing review in response to the exam reforms.

The job cuts have come at a time when boards are under pressure from a campaign to improve the quality of marking. William Richardson, general secretary of the independent schools' Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which is leading the campaign, said: "Any reductions in staffing that might affect either the reliability of results issued, or schools' inquiries where there is a concern about results, are a backwards step."

An AQA spokeswoman said the revamp of the exam system had affected the resources required by the board.

"We have had to review our structure and the way we work," she said. "Throughout the review we have remained focused on getting the right results for students and continuing to deliver the service that schools and colleges expect, so it will be business as usual for AQA as we implement the new structure.

"We have also looked at better ways to communicate with teachers, exam officers and our examining community."

Exam reform timetable

  • Radically reformed GCSEs and A-levels will be taught from September; both will be linear rather than modular.
  • The most controversial aspect of the A-level reforms is the "decoupling" of the AS-level, which will no longer contribute to an overall A-level grade.
  • New GCSEs in English language, English literature and maths with a 9-1 grading structure will be taught from September.
  • The first wave of reformed AS- and A-levels, also being introduced in September, will be made up of art and design, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, English language, English literature, English language and literature, history, physics, psychology, and sociology.

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