Failure of examination boards must signal ruthless approach in future

18 June 2010

The rejection this week by Ofqual of all the revised science GCSE qualifications submitted by examination boards signals a demand for far more rigour in education, says the chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).

Dr Richard Pike said: "Now the emperor with no clothes has finally been exposed."

He added: "This revelation is a terrible indictment of years of acquiescence and the slip into mediocrity over standards, through too few wanting to raise their hands because of a fear of offending any one of the numerous stakeholders in the examination process.  

"This is a pivotal time to define what school children should know and be able to do, and how this should be assessed to meet the needs of individuals, universities, industry and the wider business community. 

"We must define this within a succinct framework, without overbearing bureaucracy and free up teachers to deliver the curriculum in an inspirational way."

Last year, one examination board (AQA) publicly criticised the others for making their exams too easy, as all sought to make their papers and related products as attractive as possible in what is effectively a highly competitive commercial market, driven by school league tables. These are now exams that students cannot "fail", and the majority taking science get a "good" pass.

Hailed as major change when a new syllabus was introduced in 2006 and first examined in 2008, these provisions were effectively themselves stamped "failed" by Government-funded reviews last year and the examination boards given another chance.

Many observers now fear that a further 'quick fix' to rectify matters for the new academic year coming this September will cause chaos.

Dr Pike has already written to the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, recommending a more lengthy delay to make sure the final outcome is the right one.

"We have been drowning in edubabble," he added. "We have endured four wasted years since the new GCSE science curriculum was introduced, ushering in an era of drift and indecision, an era in which quangos have communicated with quangos in their own evasive jargon, rarely failing to reach the core of the problems."

"There is a new consensus within the science community that this infrastructure has to be swept away for the benefit of the country, and that a more open relationship must be developed between government, teachers, examination boards, scientists, regulators and the 'users' of education.

"With the real issues facing science education now being laid bare, the future must be based on more effective engagement and consultation, and an environment of scrutiny and challenge, so that never again can one part of the community say that standards are rising for even more students, while the other part listens in disbelief and frustration."

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