Ofqual to calm standards row

16th May 2008 at 01:00
Teachers can expect the new exams regulator to try to take the heat out of the annual media frenzy of exam results days

Teachers can expect the new exams regulator to try to take the heat out of the annual media frenzy of exam results days. But those hoping it will review the effects of tests on teaching, or set up alternatives to Sats, may be disappointed.

Ofqual, the independent watchdog to replace the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, is launched today. Staff at its HQ in Coventry have a sizeable remit, including vetting new GCSEs and diplomas, and checking whether the exams system offers value for money.

But one challenge will dominate its public role: it will make pronouncements on whether exam standards have been maintained. Ofqual is expected to be visible during the results season, partly by publishing discussion papers, open letters and blogs from exams experts on its website.

Kathleen Tattersall, Ofqual's chair, said: "If we can take some of the heat out of that debate, it would be nice. It's unfair to the cohort of students who get their results on a certain day of August. Whether we can do that, I do not know."

It is expected the regulator will involve experts from exam boards and, possibly, independent academics in trying to answer the standards question. Other upcoming studies include investigations into the relative difficulty of GCSE and A-level subjects, how predictable questions are, and an inquiry into exam entry fees.

MPs on the children's, schools and families select committee this week called for Ofqual to set up an alternative national testing system, in which a small sample of pupils would be assessed every year. Different pupils could be set the same tests from year to year, and the results would not be used for school league tables.

Many organisations now recommend this model, which they say would provide much better data on underlying standards as teaching to the test would be minimised, and comparisons of how pupils from different years perform in the same assessments would be possible.

But Ms Tattersall said the regulator could not advocate it. Neither will it investigate issues such as the advent of test-focused schooling, or whether national tests could be replaced by teacher assessment.


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