State-run exam board would be ‘Corbyn-esque’, claims OCR chair

An exam board boss has condemned a proposal to create a single state-run awarding body, under consideration by ministers, as a “Corbyn-esque” approach that could lead to political interference.

Simon Lebus, group chief executive of Cambridge Assessment and chair of the OCR exam board, said today that the measure risked creating “a vehicle for a much greater degree of political involvement in the education system”.

In a reference to the recently elected leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Lebus said that the effective nationalisation of the exam boards “sounds like a rather improbably Corbyn-esque solution for a Conservative government to want to implement.”

Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum conference in London today, he said: “Jeremy Corbyn is an old-school socialist who I’d assume to be a Clause IV man. He’s talked about nationalising the railways, and this would be nationalising the exam boards.”

He added that it seemed “a bit counter-intuitive” for a Conservative government to be considering the proposal, adding that schools minister Nick Gibb “has never struck me as a Clause IV man, but I could be wrong”.

TES reported in January that ministers were dusting off plans for single exam boards amid fears of falling standards. This summer the option was confirmed to be one of several being considered by officials, after Mr Gibb ordered a review of the options for exam board reform.

Mr Lebus said that boards were “geared up for a period of major upheaval, effectively from now until 2019” – while GCSEs and A-levels are reformed – and that “to do all that with the spectre of nationalisation hanging over you is problematic”.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We recognise the need to ensure that the exam system operates effectively, which is why we are considering long-term reforms to the exam board system.

“As always, we would listen carefully to the views of teachers, parents and employers.”

Also at the conference Mr Lebus defended GCSE exams, after several high-profile figures including John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, said they should be abolished.

Mr Lebus said research by Cambridge Assessment showed that the UK was “not remotely oddball” in setting external exams for pupils as they reached the end of secondary education, because several high-performing countries did the same.

He added that it was right to examine pupils as they progressed to sixth-form education because this was “a critical juncture in young people’s lives”.

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