exams watchdog Ofqual avoided major budget cuts earlier this year after threatening to delay the introduction of new GCSEs and A-levels, and to call off a flagship policy to ensure grades are awarded fairly, it has emerged.
Ofqual board papers published this month reveal that, in the spring, the Department for Education asked the watchdog to find ways to cut between 15 and 50 per cent of its 2015-16 budget for exam reforms. The request came after its annual budget had been set.
Ofqual warned that it could make the cuts only by postponing the introduction of the new exams, by cancelling the national reference test or by aborting a major IT programme. According to the papers, the watchdog told DfE officials: “We are not able to achieve this level of saving through a salami-slicing approach.”
The DfE dropped its request for savings after Ofqual said the cuts risked delays to exam reforms. Ofqual had also been trying to cope with losing an average of three employees a month – a trend that caused the watchdog to question its ability to carry out its main functions.
The papers, written in May but published this month, say that if Ofqual “continued to lose permanent staff at the current rate”, it faced “a danger to [its] ability to deliver” exam reforms as well as its other targets for 2015-16, including making sure GCSEs and A-levels are awarded fairly.
A spokesman for the watchdog said: “We have not had to find any in-year budget savings in the current (2015-16) financial year. We are currently in discussion with the Department for Education regarding our future budget. If necessary, we will review our planned programme of work in light of the final outcome [of the spending review]”.