Make up or lose out, exam boards told

The Times, 23/12/14, Ministers have threatened to revive plans to appoint a single exam board for each GCSE subject after reacting with fury to a dispute between awarding bodies over “easy” practice papers.

The Times revealed yesterday that the Edexcel and OCR exam boards had written to thousands of schools suggesting that assessment materials for GCSE maths produced by AQA, a rival, were too easy.

Their protests appear to have backfired, however, as ministers accused them of undermining confidence in exams by going public.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, made a series of terse calls to Ofqual and the awarding bodies, ordering them to resolve their differences or face having the regulated market model for exams torn up.

One option is a radical switch to government-produced exam papers, written by the Standards and Testing Agency within the Department for Education.

“Ministers are absolutely furious that it has not been resolved and that Ofqual has not dealt with their concerns and that the three boards between them have decided to air their problems in public,” a source in the department said.

“There has long been concern, for many years, that there is systematic dumbing down in the system. It is the issue they tried to resolve when they came into office.”

Edexcel and OCR wrote to heads of maths departments in 3,000 secondary schools urging them to delay choosing an awarding body for GCSE maths, saying not all boards’ assessment materials are of the same standard.

Both claim that practice papers produced by the AQA board are too easy, featuring multiple choice questions, and fewer stretching questions requiring complex mathematical reasoning.

The source added: “It has been made very clear to Ofqual that this thing does need to be resolved. We cannot have this systematic downward spiral of demand . . . Otherwise we have to brush off plans that we had decided not to proceed with in terms of one exam board or have what they have in other countries and do them in-house.”

Michael Gove, the former education secretary, originally planned to scrap GCSEs and replace them with an English Baccalaureate Certificate in core subjects run by a single exam board. Five year-franchises for each subject were to be awarded to one board, using a quality-based tender process.

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