Experts fear ‘race to the bottom’ after Ofqual drops extra science GCSE checks

This is an edited version of an article from the 2 October edition of TES. For the full article, subscribe to TES here.

Exams watchdog Ofqual has called off plans to use extra checks on the standards of new GCSE science papers, in a move that experts warn could encourage a “race to the bottom” by exam boards.

The regulator announced in May that it would bring in additional checks for the science tests, after exam boards were told to tear up new maths GCSE sample question papers because they had not been pitched at the right level. The move was embarrassing for the watchdog because it took in qualifications it had already approved.

But TES can reveal that information gathered from the extra checks on the science papers, in which 100 science teachers were asked this summer to judge the difficulty of more than 6,000 exam questions, will not be part of the approval process for the new exams.

Instead, the papers will go through the standard accreditation process that Ofqual uses for all GCSEs before teachers start teaching the new-style science courses from next September.

A spokesman for Ofqual told TES that the extra checks “didn’t work in the way we would have hoped” and that the watchdog had been unable to “use the evidence in the way we intended”, although he could not provide details of what had gone wrong with the process.

Alan Smithers, an assessment expert at the University of Buckingham, told TES the decision risked creating a “race to the bottom” in which boards tried to make their sample assessment materials easier than those of other boards.

He said there was an “incentive” for boards to do this, “because they want to attract as many customers as possible, which means making it easier for students to get the top grades”.

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