Fine and ban wayward examining boards, demands RSC chief executive

05 November 2009

Examining boards should be fined or even banned if they do not comply with regulations in future, the Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry will say tomorrow.

Also, Dr Richard Pike will call for the sharpening up of guidelines for setting GCSEs and other tests in science. 

Dr Pike will be opening the new chemistry block at Millfield School in Somerset which is one of the most progressive institutions in the secondary sector.

He will parallel the exciting facilities at Millfield with the need nationwide for more inspiring assessment and development techniques.

Dr Pike will tell guests: "In contrast, evidence gathered recently by the science community has identified entire science papers with no underlying mathematics, and science questions with no science. This is a blatant breach of expected standards."

"In a key stage 3 paper in 2008, there was the now infamous question which was more a test of literacy than science:  where does the energy come from for a solar-powered mole scarer.  For all the science needed, this could have been instead a toothbrush or a nail clipper!

"As examining boards compete to makes their wares more attractive to schools and pupils, it really is 'a race to the bottom', with each one pushing the boundaries set by the regulators and sometimes going right through them. 

"Even attempts to make topics more relevant through the How Science Works initiative, as demanded by specifications, have been largely abandoned in some cases, as boards focus on simplicity and multiple choice questions.

"In any other endeavour, this would be unacceptable.  Break the rules in Formula 1, and you get banned.  Contravene competition law, and you get fined.  

"A million pound surcharge would focus the mind of any examining board chief executive and overnight would do more than years of 'discussion between stakeholders'.

"But the key to this is a truly independent regulator with teeth, coupled with transparency, honesty and a willingness to challenge an examination system that demonstrably is not working.  

"Only then will we be able to address and resolve the skills crisis facing us and provide great career opportunities that, at the same time, will benefit this country in the forthcoming years."

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