Exam boards on ‘final warning’ as GCSE results day looms

Exam boards are on their “final warning” and must prove that they have “upped their game” to prevent a radical overhaul of the system that could threaten their existence, government sources have told TES.

In an escalation of the row between awarding bodies and the Department for Education, it has emerged that any significant difficulties with this month’s A-level and GCSE results will lead to certain reform.

“We’ve got our eyes peeled,” a source close to ministers said, adding that they were looking for any evidence of inaccurate or delayed marking of papers. He said that exam boards were on their “final warning”.

Ministers’ concerns cut across “all aspects” of the role of exam boards, the source added, and any difficulties over the next year would trigger major changes.

But assessment experts and independent schools are warning that the reforms under consideration would reduce choice and could spell “disaster”.

Jo-Anne Baird, director of the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment, questioned whether the government would be “capable of setting up an exam board with the expertise and capacity to run these high-volume, high-stakes exams”.

Professor Baird noted that there had been “several disasters” when national curriculum tests were run by a single organisation contracted by the government. “GCSEs and A-levels are higher-stakes exams and we couldn’t afford to have that level of problems in the country with those exams,” she said.

Exam boards told TES they were confident that this year’s papers had been marked on time. However, they warned that because the process of setting and marking exams was so complex, it was unlikely that “hiccups”, such as the 2014 problems at OCR which emerged last week and enraged ministers, would be completely avoided in the future.

A senior figure at one board said the difficulties proved that the current system was working well. “Other boards helped out to make sure no students got their results late,” they said.

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