"National Conversation" urgently required over exam system, experts warn

Millions of young people will continue to be left behind if exams in England are not given a radical overhaul, says a new commission launched today.

The proposals being discussed by the Independent Assessment Commission (IAC) will shake-up the failing exam system and 'start a national conversation' to transform the way the country’s young people are assessed.

UofG's Professor Louise Hayward, Chair of the Commission, said: “The current system fails too many pupils, teachers and schools.  Nor does it meet the needs of business. The time for change is now.

“It places undue demands on young people - risking their mental health - and is creating a new generation who leave school scarred by their experience of the exam system.

“Hundreds of thousands leave every year without the skills they need.

“We need a national conversation around a new approach that radically overhauls the system, that is designed to realise the potential and life chances of all children, is kinder to teachers and students and benefits the whole country.”

The launch of the IAC brings together academics, parents and students as well as the National Education Union, Chartered College of Teaching, the EDGE Foundation and the CBI.

Research shows that by 2030 seven million people will be under skilled - with concerns growing among the business community who recognise the flawed exam system is not meeting the needs of the economy.

The Commission begins taking evidence on Tuesday 8 June 2021 and is expected to report later this year.

It was launched as a response to the Covid-19 crisis and growing pressure on the UK government to reform the algorithms that govern exam results and leave children from poorer backgrounds at a disadvantage.

Professor Hayward added: “We are not anti-exams.  But we are against an approach that assesses all young people based only on exams – and anti any system that excludes any young person from the system.

“Qualifications that form part of a new ERA of Equitable, Reliable Assessment will encourage all young people to want to learn throughout their personal and professional lives.

“This is beneficial for young people, for our society and our economy.”

Teaching unions have welcomed efforts to change what they say is an unfair and failing system.

Robin Bevan, National Education Union (NEU) national president and secondary headteacher, said: “As a trade union we are delighted to take part in this commission with a wide array of organisations calling for change to the secondary assessment system.

“The current approach sees too many of our students disadvantaged by a system that bakes in and exacerbates disadvantage for those already up against it in life.

“High stress levels for pupils and teachers characterise the current system; we need a system that nurtures and helps improve the health and well-being of all and fosters a love of learning, which has the benefit of being good for young people and our society as a whole.”

“Teachers want to help all of their students to expand their horizons and realise their potential, but the current system does not allow this. It holds back too many of the young people we teach and prevents them from being the best they can be.”


The Independent Assessment Commission members are:
  • Professor Louise Hayward (Chair), Professor of Educational Assessment and Innovation at University of Glasgow.
  • Robin Bevan, National Education Union (NEU) National President for the 2020/21 academic year.
  • Matthew Percival People and Skills Policy Director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
  • Professor Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching.
  • Professor Vini Lander, Professor of Race and Education and Director of the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality in the Carnegie School of Education.
  • Olly Newton, Executive Director of the Edge Foundation, where he oversees a programme of primary research, is lead author on the charity’s reports and runs the Edge Future Learning delivery programme for schools and colleges.
  • Kerry-Jane Packman, Executive Director of Programmes, Membership and Charitable Services for Parentkind.
  • Professor Dominic Wyse, Professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education, University College London (UCL), Institute of Education (IOE). Founding Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Pedagogy (0-11) (HHCP) and current President of the British Educational Research Association (BERA).
  • Professor Jo-Anne Baird, Director of the Department of Education, University of Oxford.
  • Salsabil Elmegri, Vice President, Further Education, of the National Union of Students (NUS).

First published: 8 June 2021