Monday, 19 November 2012

Ofqual's 'Breach of Contract' with the Young?

So, Ofqual has decided that next term’s January modules will be the last. I am pleased to see the back of them – and getting rid of them means that all schools who previously used them, ourselves included, will gain a week of teaching time. Fewer exams, more teaching – what’s to argue with?

Well, actually, two things. First, a cohort of students embarked on their A level studies in September (did Ofqual notice? Do they know that students generally study A levels for two years?) on the expectation that – possibly even the promise that – the courses would be structured in a certain way. At about the 1/5th of the way there, the goalposts have been subtly shifted.  Should the decision possibly have been made now for implementation post January 2014?

When we talk to students about the things that matter to them – going to concerts, sporting events and the like – we often say to them that they have to ask our permission to miss things before they book tickets. It doesn’t seem respectful to me when I am told that a pupil is not available for a school event because a subsequent engagement has already been booked. I tend to respond much better when I am asked before the booking.

I wonder therefore how students up and down the country have reacted to the news (have they realized yet? Do they look that far ahead?) that the ‘contract’ relating to the shape and timing of their A levels has been changed, without asking or consulting them, and after the courses had started.

And another thing… (you can always tell when someone is on their soapbox when these three words come in sequence)… has Ofqual sufficient confidence in the marking of A level modules to make university places dependent on only one go at both A2 (or all three A2) modules? Putting 50% of the marks for university in the terminal assessment does raise the bar somewhat on the requirement for accuracy. Our recent experience of the reliability of A2 assessment is not terribly encouraging. Will requirements for accuracy on exam boards rise?

The UK’s public exam system is free market. So, how about introducing the requirement for an exam board to pay a small fine every time a change in mark triggers a change in grade; and a bigger fine if the change in mark only changes the grade at the second or third stage of the appeal? Why don’t we increase the fine if the appeal has to be a priority case because a university place depends on it?

Why don’t we have a standard independent referral if the number of appeals on a certain qualification exceeds a specified percentage of entries? And why don’t we have a standard measure by which a qualification can be ‘de-licenced’ if, in the case of such an independent referral, the proportion of exams which are re-graded is significant.

Of course, if we are to ‘de-licence’ a qualification, we will have to give young people enough notice…

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