Not such a soft touch after all?


Many critics have suggested that Ofqual,  the body responsible for ensuring exam standards are maintained,  probably lacks bite and is too close to the Government – and not independent enough to protect standards.

But last  week it showed it may have  some bite . It found that the  proposed replacement science GCSEs have not gone far enough to address its concerns over standards.

Ofqual has sent the new-look qualifications back to the awarding organisations for more work. It found serious causes for concern, including structural issues such as significant variation in the types of assessment used in different specifications and the weightings allocated to them, as well as a lack of challenge and demand in some question papers and internally assessed tasks.  Exam Boards drew up the replacements based on QCDA criteria and consulted extensively with stakeholders. The QCDA is one of the quangos  being scrapped by the coalition government  and wont, it has to be said,  be missed by the exam boards or many other stakeholders for that matter. The QCDA during its brief unlamented life earned a reputation for a level of  opaqueness  second to none.  The new GCSE science qualifications are being developed after Ofqual found serious causes for concern when monitoring the version of the qualifications used in 2007 and 2008, and still in use today. Ofqual asked for changes to be made to the current qualifications and for new ones to be designed.

Awarding organisations  submitted new versions of the qualifications for approval for teaching in schools from September 2011. However, Ofqual has found that the new versions do not fully address the concerns  it raised. It has sent detailed feedback to the awarding organisations so they can take action to bring the examinations up to the required standard.

Kathleen Tattersall, Chair of Ofqual and Chief Regulator, said: “Ofqual’s job is to make sure that standards are maintained. If qualifications do not meet our standards, we can not accept them into the regulated system.  “Learners, teachers, employers and universities look for the independent regulator’s stamp of approval as assurance that qualifications are rigorous, demanding and fair. I look forward to receiving improved GCSE science qualifications that meet our requirements.  “Schools are expecting detailed information about the new qualifications in time to prepare for first teaching in September 2011. Ofqual hopes that that will still be possible, but progress will depend on the quality of the revised qualifications.  “In the meantime, improvements have been built in to the current version, and the regulators will make sure that grades awarded this summer are appropriate and fair.”  A spokesman for the exam board OCR said: “OCR is naturally disappointed that Ofqual did not accredit its GCSE science specifications. “They were designed by experienced syllabus developers in close contact with the science community.  “However, given that they were built to QCDA criteria, this ruling clearly indicates that Ofqual had major problems with its partner quango – and that the government was right to scrap it. “OCR trusts that Ofqual will now reach a new level of transparency about what is required from awarding bodies and will start work on amending the syllabus immediately.”  The report ‘Findings from the monitoring of the new GCSE science specifications: 2007 to 2008’ (March 2009) can be found on the www.ofqual.gov.uk


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