Exclusive: board’s withdrawal from language exams heralds shift to ‘monopoly’ system, experts warn

OCR’s move signifies a change that heads fear will threaten choice for schools

Headteachers and experts are warning that a major exam board’s decision to withdraw from modern foreign languages heralds a shift towards a system of monopolies, with little or no competition between awarding bodies.

As TES revealed on Monday, the OCR board will not offer reformed French, German or Spanish GCSEs and A levels that are due to be taught from September.

It is the first time that a major exam board has pulled out of qualifications in a core subject. Now experts are warning that the move could be the “thin end of the wedge” and lead to other exam boards stopping qualifications that are loss-making or where a board has a small share of the market.

One academic is calling for Ofqual or the Joint Council for Qualifications to intervene to ensure all subjects are covered.

The Association of School and College Leaders interim general secretary, Malcolm Trobe, said: “If boards start pulling out and we end up with a monopoly for some subjects, that’s not a position that we’d like to see. It leaves no choice for teachers [and] no variation in assessment methodology.”

There are fears that the franchising system, with one board per subject – which former education secretary, Michael Gove, proposed, then abandoned – could happen by default.

Mr Trobe said: “My worry is, are we going to see franchising by the back door? The big concern is that this is the thin end of the wedge. Does this mean we will see the same thing happening in other subjects, where awarding bodies have low entry [numbers]?”

The Department for Education is still considering “long-term reforms” to the exams system and a well-informed source said this week that at least one of the major boards was basing its future plans on an assumption that a franchising model could be introduced.

The WJEC Eduqas board said the board was “fully committed to providing a comprehensive suite of qualifications in England”.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA, which is England’s largest schools exam board, said it had “no plan” to withdraw from any part of the core curriculum.

A spokesman for Pearson, which runs the Edexcel exam board, also said it was not planning to stop offering any current GCSEs or A levels.

Cambridge Assessment, owner of OCR, said that the group would “continue to offer the widespread portfolio of qualifications” through its three boards.

The DfE said OCR’s decision was “disappointing” but schools could choose from many other GCSEs and A levels in the subjects. Ofqual did not wish to comment.

This is an edited version of an article in the 20 May edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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