‘We’re Mystic Meg’: headteachers left in the dark over new exams

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The majority of new GCSEs and A-levels have not yet been approved, less than a year before their introduction

This is an edited version of an article in the 16 October edition of TES. To read the full article, subscribe to TES

Just three of 156 new GCSEs, AS- and A-levels that schools will be expected to teach from next year have had any official approval from exams regulator Ofqual, it has emerged.

Headteachers say they needed to see approved specifications and sample assessment materials a full year before teaching begins in September 2016. They warn that the delay in preparing for the biggest year of exam reform for decades is wasting scarce public funds and forcing them to act like “Mystic Meg” when explaining the changes to pupils and parents.

The slow progress is despite Ofqual pledging last December that new specifications for all the exams to be taught from 2016 would be available in “autumn 2015”. Exam boards have published draft versions, but Ofqual rejected most of them.

This week, Ofqual chief executive Glenys Stacey admitted: “It is fair to say that accreditation of this year’s exam board specifications has been slower than we had hoped.” She acknowledged that the list of approved qualifications “makes for scant reading”.

The three qualifications with some accreditation – Latin GCSE, and music A- and AS-levels – each have approved specifications from only one out of a potential four exam boards. That leaves 153 specifications across 21 subjects without accreditation.

Speaking to Ms Stacey at an exam reform conference in London, one deputy head, who asked not to be named, said: “We are basically Mystic Meg…trying to give answers to students and parents when we don’t even know ourselves.”

An Ofqual spokeswoman said the watchdog had acted in accordance with its commitment, made in response to the government’s Workload Challenge, to publish requirements for new qualifications at least a year in advance of first teaching.

It had also met its pledge to make decisions about exam boards’ submissions by 1 October 2015, she said, although the vast majority of these submissions were rejected.

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