‘Current Exam System fails test according to Exams Commission’

‘Current Exam System fails test according to Exams Commission’

Time to change says commission in the ‘Most Important Intervention in a Generation’

The Independent Assessment Commission (IAC), representing the interests of parents, students, teachers, business and academia, has today (2 February) published its report on the future of assessment and qualifications in England.

The IAC marks a major shift in thinking about how England should assess its young people in schools and colleges and is seen as the most important intervention into exams and assessment in a generation.

The report is focused on ensuring the English qualifications system equips young people with the knowledge, skills and competencies necessary to help address the current and emerging social and economic challenges. It is also focused on creating a system that helps young people leave school and college with a broader skill set that would make them more ready for Further Education, Higher Education and the workplace.

To achieve this the report argues that ‘fundamental changes’ to the current system are needed and that change should begin with GCSEs. The IAC argues that change should improve equity - qualifications to meet the needs of every young person, and address the growing mental health crisis in our schools.

A General Certificate of Secondary Education could still be part of the learning journey of school and college students. The IAC has concluded that how GCSEs are awarded should be comprehensively overhauled, with an end to cliff edge exams as the sole mode of assessment and no arbitrary assessment of all young people at the age of 16

Assessment should instead take place between the ages of 14 and 19, and at a time when students are ready to undertake them.

Professor Louise Hayward, Chair of the IAC said:

“I am very proud to present this far reaching and visionary report.

“The IAC has concluded that the current approach to qualifications requires fundamental change. It is beyond doubt that it is failing its own test to provide a system of assessment that sufficiently serves society, the economy and the young people being educated in England’s schools and colleges.

“Today, we have laid out a vision, a set of principles and a series of specific recommendations for a New Era of equitable, reliable, assessment.

“The IAC report identifies inequalities deeply ingrained in a system and which has to change if there is to be greater educational equality.

“We need a system that helps every young person to progress to college, employment or university with qualifications that recognise their achievements and the capabilities they need to succeed in the challenging times that lie ahead. New ERA qualifications should open doors to future learning and employment for every young person.

“Currently, too many young people feel that they are denied opportunities because their time at school has not been properly recognized - this is not good for them, nor is it good for their future employers, our economy and society.

“England’s exam system needs to change. Equality, diversity, inclusion and health and well-being must be central to an assessment system that has a positive impact on all students

“The proposed IAC reforms will help attract and retain teachers by recognising and developing their professionalism, providing greater job satisfaction as they help students develop further their skills in problem solving, critical thought and innovation.

“Ending high stakes exams as the only mode of assessment will improve mental health and reduce the stress experienced by teachers, students and their parents and will also ensure that disadvantaged students receive the support they need and that practical, technical skills, and ‘soft’ skills of collaboration, teamwork, creativity and entrepreneurship are recognized.

“The time has come for change. We urge policy-makers to listen to this report and act upon it. Our economy, our society and our young people need nothing less.”


For enquiries please contact Dr Tommy Kane 07833496436 / tommy@unityconsulting.scot or Michael Sharpe 07508414731 / michael@unityconsulting.scot


Key Recommendations from the Report

Recommendations 1:  Recognise every student’s achievement. Create a more equitable and reliable assessment system that both optimizes the potential and protects the health and well-being of all England’s young people

Recommendations 2:  Use the broad consensus for change that currently exists to initiate a national conversation on education with a particular focus on equitable, reliable assessment.  Use the vision and principles in this report to stimulate that conversation

Recommendation 3: Design learning experiences and qualifications that encourage students to become critical, inquisitive, creative, autonomous and problem-solving learners, that better support their progression into employment, further and higher education and inspire life-long and inter-disciplinary learning

Recommendation 4: Identify reliable, alternative, blended approaches to assessment that rigorously gather evidence of student achievement and competence. End high stakes examinations as the only mode of assessing student achievement. Alternative approaches should be developed and trialed with schools to ensure that any new approach takes teacher capacity into consideration

Recommendation 5: Deploy existing and emergent technologies to support high quality student experiences in assessment and qualifications

Recommendation 6: Plan coherent pathways for all of England’s young people between school, college, university and employment that include a coherent 14-19 assessment and qualification experience.   GCSEs in their present form, where the qualification is based solely on high stakes examinations, need to change fundamentally

Recommendation 7: Focus on qualifications as outcomes.  Assessment should not be based around a fixed age of 16.  Students should have opportunities to demonstrate achievements when ready throughout education 14-19

Recommendation 8: Design an integrated qualifications system that offers every student opportunity to include ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ elements seamlessly alongside accreditation for skill development, extended inter-disciplinary study and community contribution.

Recommendation 9: Build a system of accountability that uses evidence to inform improvement and ends judgmental categorisation of schools.

Recommendation 10: Recognise that successful, sustainable change requires genuine stakeholder engagement including all the communities who have been part of this Commission.

The membership of the commission reflects the growing consensus for change. For more information about the membership of the IAC please see Home | New Era Assessment

Here is what some members of the IAC have said about the IAC and their report.

John Jolly, Parentkind's CEO: "Assessment will continue to be at or near the top of the education agenda for years to come. The IAC's work in considering the future of assessment is timely, critical and of high value. Parentkind has welcomed the opportunity to contribute parents' views and represent them as a major education stakeholder."

Olly Newton Executive Director of the Edge Foundation: “Any system naturally focuses on delivering what we measure from it. Reimagining the principles of assessment, as this Commission has done, is a crucial part of making our whole education system fairer and more relevant for young people’s futures”

Robin Bevan Headteacher and former NEU President: “Exams currently dictate, distort and diminish the value, relevance and enjoyment of secondary school in England. Educators across the country are clamouring for equitable and reliable assessment reform, so all pupils can experience worthwhile and motivating progression in learning: an affirming and inclusive pathway towards their future role in society."

Alison Peacock Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching: “I was delighted to work together with colleagues from the IAC to establish key principles that should underpin fully inclusive and equitable assessment in the future. We must be ambitious for every child and ensure that education enables full recognition of success.  We must similarly enable all teachers to be supported as the system develops assessment methodologies and routes that offer achievement opportunities for all.”

Dominic Wyse Professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education: University College London (UCL), Institute of Education (IOE): “The principles of the ERA relate closely to what research evidence tells us about effective assessment. It is a pleasure to be part of this important work.'

Vini Lander Professor of Race and Education and Director of the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality at Leeds Becket University: “I hope the work of the Commission acts as a catalyst to instigate change to establish an equitable assessment system for all our young people"

Jo-Anne Baird Director of the Department of Education, University of Oxford:Assessment must serve the needs of society and the shifts in the labour market need serious attention.  We need to start planning now."

First published: 2 February 2022

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