UK: Ofqual Weighs In On New English Baccalaureate Plan

Ofqual, Britain's testing regulator, is feeling embattled as of late. Since earlier this year it has had to fight off a number of attacks from heads, teachers and students about their new GCSE and A-level grading policy, and now they're attempting to discredit a government proposal that would see GCSE exams done away with altogether.

The kerfuffle arose from a plan introduced by the Coalition to create new English Baccalaureate Certificates — and a new set of exams to go with them — to replace the GCSEs. Education Minister Michael Gove, who is a supporter of the plan, has already said several times that he hopes to see the new program in place in as little as three years from now.

Yet in a letter to the Department of Education last month, Ofqual dealt what many consider to be a serious blow to that effort by saying that the confusion that will arise out of the change will be a rehash of the confusion that reigned after the grading policy changes for GCSE English exams went into effect this summer.

Release of the letter followed an angry exchange between the Education Secretary and MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee.

In an appearance before the cross-party committee, he refused to disclose the contents of the memo, insisting it was the regulator's responsibility to voice its own concerns.

But the stance was branded "unacceptable" by Graham Stuart, the Committee's Conservative chairman.

Labour seized on the disclosure of the letter insisting that the "reliability of exams" would be damaged by the move.

The letter also takes issue with the plan to do away with competing exam boards currently operating around England and Wales. Eliminating this kind of competition would likely diminish the quality of the exams since there wouldn't be so many expert voices contributing and debating their design – something that might have a negative impact on the more advanced A-Levels as well.

Under plans, new EBC qualifications will be offered in the core academic subjects of English, maths, science, foreign languages, history and geography by 2015.The courses will no longer split pupils into upper and lower tiers depending on their ability and courses will be assessed almost entirely through end-of-year tests.

Ofqual pointed out that relying on a single exam for assessment wouldn't produce accurate picture of students' skills. At the same time, the Coalition plan that would stop classifying students by achievement would seem to contradict the implication that one test can be designed to assess students at all ability levels effectively.

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