Tories warn Ofqual A-level accreditation remit may be thrown on quango bonfire

10th July 2009 at 01:00
Cameron argues that transferring role to exam boards and universities would raise standards, but critics fear 'free for all'

The Conservatives are considering removing Ofqual, the exams regulator, from the A-level accreditation process, leaving the job to exam boards and universities, The TES has learnt.

The party, which looks likely to form the next government, also believes a temporary body such as a Royal Commission could be best placed to simplify the national curriculum.

The news emerged in the wake of Tory plans to review quangos, which would see the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency abolished and could lead to a tighter remit for Ofsted and the Training and Development Agency for Schools.

The Conservative education team believes GCSEs have been at the root of a devaluation in exam standards since the 1980s. They think Ofqual's resources might be better concentrated on this sector.

Leaving A-levels to be determined by universities and exam boards would, they believe, lead to higher-quality exams, which would have a knock-on effect on GCSE quality.

But assessment experts warn the move could lead to an A-level "free for all" that would have the opposite effect, with standards falling due to lack of regulation.

The Labour administration has put in place a system whereby the QCDA proposes A-level criteria that are signed off by Ofqual. The regulator then decides whether qualifications proposed by the exam boards meet these standards.

But David Cameron revealed this week that if he comes to power "the QCDA must go", with its responsibilities for the national curriculum shifting to the Department for Children, Schools and Families to increase accountability.

The Tory leader said of Ofqual: "Instead of looking at thousands of exams every few years, it needs a narrower focus, concentrating on a much smaller number of subjects so there is less tinkering, bureaucracy and expense."

The TES understands this could mean taking Ofqual out of the A-level accreditation process, although it would still carry out research on standards in existing exams.

The Conservatives said universities, concerned about grade inflation, supported the move, which would see them playing a bigger role in the development of A-levels.

But one exams expert doubts universities' enthusiasm, pointing to their gradual disengagement from the school exams system since the 1980s.

He also argues that without Ofqual accreditation there would be no check on the temptation for boards to produce exams that are attractive to schools because they are easier to pass.

Experts question universities' ability to reach a common view on standards and their own credibility following the degree-classification inflation of recent years.

Mr Cameron said politicians needed to be accountable for national curriculum content. But his party's education advisers think a Royal Commission could be the way to slash the curriculum to a smaller core during the first year of a Conservative government. The commission could then be disbanded and the new curriculum left in place for the next 20 years.

But opponents are likely to argue that the plan does not take account of the need to revise the curriculum much more frequently in the wake of new developments such as the internet and DNA.

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