Failing awarding bodies should face financial penalties

27 August 2010

A blighted GCSE exam-setting process systematically failing to challenge pupils should be open to financial penalties, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Richard Pike, chief executive of the RSC, said: "Ofqual's admission today that students have for the last three years been taking tests which are 'not good enough' shows its message is not getting through, despite repeatedly calling for improvements.  Why are there not substantial penalties for this consistent 'collective falling short of the standards that young people and teachers have a right to expect' to use Isabel Nisbet's words? As our examination system is effectively a market place, maybe financial penalties would make waves.

"There were issues in 2008, 2009 and 2010 - and the new specifications submitted for accreditation in April this year were all rejected for being unsatisfactory. This is a strong message that Ofqual is unable to ensure that the questions are demanding enough - despite several times stating that things must be improved. This can only suggest that Ofqual is not being taken seriously by the awarding organisations and it questions the awarding organisations' claims that they are all making every effort to address the issues. 

"OCR and Edexcel say that they are addressing Ofqual's criticisms in new specifications, but it will be a pleasant surprise if these serious issues are dealt with quickly. The RSC has offered to help the awarding bodies in this process but they have so far failed to accept our offer."

Ms Nisbet, Ofqual's chief executive, admitted in her interview in today's Times Educational Supplement that science exams "still have a bit to go" to improve.

Dr Pike responded: "When the standards and comparability of assessments fall short for the third year in a row, and the first drafts of the new specifications being brought in to apparently address the issue are thoroughly rejected, there is a clear indication that the Augean stable of bureaucrats and educational consultants, and ineffective quangos, needs to be cleared out urgently."

Ms Nisbet's admission that the system will be "gradually reversed" was challenged by Dr Pike. "This is not a broken system which needs to be fixed gradually. We need urgent action to ensure there is no repeat in 2011. It is little wonder that Ofqual's poll shows employers and teachers have little faith in our exam system. We are letting our students and teachers down."

The RSC has been calling for wholesale change in the education system for many years. Earlier this week, Dr Pike criticized the latest GCSE papers as being part of a system where schools could feed off easy exams, leading to the awarding bodies wanting to make them easier.

Last month, he told the Times that the proposed new science GCSEs submitted recently by examining boards, but later rejected by the regulator Ofqual, once again 'dumbed down' these important subjects and failed students, teachers and employees.

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