Ofqual review highlights role learned societies should play in exam regulation, says RSC chief


02 May 2012

Ofqual's review of A-level chemistry standards shows the Royal Society of Chemistry must play a greater role in exam regulation, according to the learned society's Chief Executive.

Dr Robert Parker said it was worrying that the exam regulator had found A-level chemistry exams had become "less demanding" from 2003 to 2008.

Dr Parker added: "As Ofqual's report notes, specifications had become less demanding due to differences in the way questions were structured. Chemistry exams will not be rigorous enough if they involved students having to use simple recall over multiple-step responses requiring better knowledge of the subject and more thinking.

"A professional body such as the Royal Society of Chemistry can bring together expertise from the higher education, industry and schools education sectors, for the benefit of high-quality exams."

Ofqual's report, Review of Standards in GCE A level Chemistry: 2003 and 2008, noted that chemistry had soared in popularity in the last decade with 26,453* students taking the subject in 2003 compared with 36,468 in 2008. Last year, more than 48,000 students studied A-level chemistry.

The RSC has for several years voiced its concern over the quality of exam standards and assessments in chemistry. It has been working for some time with other science bodies, through the Science Community Representing Education (SCORE) to address the issue.

Dr Parker said: "The RSC has the people and the expertise. We would be best placed to ensure England and Wales has the most rigorous and world class chemistry curriculum and assessment possible. 

"But future oversight of examinations and assessments must take place before they are taken by students rather than after. The differences that have been noted could then be addressed at a more appropriate time and would prevent this kind of impact discovered by Ofqual."

Professor Graham Hutchings, SCORE Chairman from the University of Cardiff, told MPs on the House of Commons education select committee earlier this year of the importance of getting a "scientifically literate society".

He added: "Higher education is only part of it. but I would urge that we involve the professional bodies in the science or, where those do not exist, some sort of excellence framework where we bring together the key people in the subject area, so that you can have them involved."

Speaking at the same hearing, Professor John Holman, from the University of York and Senior Fellow for Education at the Wellcome Trust, said that Ofqual needed more capacity in subject expertise.

He added that scientific learned societies had strong links to universities and employers and "very good education expertise". "By the way, such subject bodies should overlook not only A-level, but also GCSE, because the one needs to articulate very well with the other," Professor Holman concluded.

*The Ofqual report states 6,453 students sat A level chemistry in 2003. We originally quoted this figure in our press release but according to the breakdown of student numbers in Appendix F: Student achievement by grade, the correct number should be as amended.

Related Links

Link icon Review of Standards in GCE A level Chemistry 2003 and 2008
This report details the findings for GCE A-level Chemistry in the years 2003 and 2008.

Link icon Review of Standards in GCSE Chemistry 2003 and 2008
This report details the findings for GCSE chemistry in the years 2003 and 2008. The previous review for this subject compared the years 1998 and 2003. The findings of that review were published in 2005.


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