Keeping track of changes to the education and exam system in England

by Nicky Rushton, 15 March 2022
Students taking notes in class

Have you ever tried to remember…

  • When a particular version of the national curriculum was first taught?
  • What changes have been made to GCSEs and A levels over the last 20 years?
  • What the Department for Education was called in a particular year?

There are so many changes to education that it can be difficult to keep track of them all or remember what they were about. Even when some details seem obvious, it isn’t always easy to know what they refer to. I can never remember whether the 2000 in Curriculum 2000 refers to the year when the curriculum was published, or the year when it was first taught in schools. (Spoiler: it’s the year when it was first taught!)

It’s not just information from twenty years ago that can be difficult to remember. Can you remember which set of subjects was taught first when the 9-1 GCSEs were introduced, or why A level mathematics was moved from the first set of subjects to be reformed to the second? Although the answer to these questions can be found on the internet, it can take time to find it. And the longer ago the change happened, the harder it can be to find the information.

In Cambridge University Press & Assessment, we decided that it would be useful to have a reference document to allow us to look up information like this without having to wade through pages of government documents or research articles. From this idea, the Register of Change was born. We created the Register in 2013, publishing it in the Research Matters article Changing times, changing qualifications. This article focused on changes to assessments in England, particularly GCSEs and A levels. Since then, we have expanded the register to cover many other aspects of education in England, including:

  • The national curriculum and national curriculum tests
  • School performance tables
  • Post-16 technical reform
  • White and green papers, and major research commissioned by government
  • Names for government departments and advisory and regulatory bodies with responsibility for education and qualifications

The latest additions are two sections covering the effects of COVID-19 on schooling, general qualifications (e.g., GCSEs and A levels) and vocational and technical qualifications (e.g., Cambridge Nationals and Cambridge Technicals). These include the dates of the school closures, results days, and additional exam series; and the dates when the major decisions were made about changes to assessment.

Although we have regularly updated the Register since the first article appeared in 2013, no updates have been published until now. But we have recently decided to put the Register onto our website so that it can be available to other researchers, teachers and anyone else interested in education.

The Register itself is divided into two documents: one covering the years from 2000-2010(1) and another covering 2010-2021(2). The format of each of the sections within the Register is identical. They start with a timeline that provides an overview of the important dates within that section, as can be seen in the small extract from the COVID-19 timeline shown below.

Extract from timeline of COVID-19-related changes to schooling and assessment in 2019-20 school year

Extract from timeline of COVID-19-related changes to schooling and assessment in 2019-20 school year

This is followed by tables that provide brief details of about the events that occurred on those dates. The summaries within the tables are intended to provide a brief description rather than a comprehensive account of what happened. We have provided references for each entry so that a reader can cite them without needing to carry out further research. Many of these references can also be used as a starting point to find out further details.

We are also publishing a supplementary document(3) that lists the consultations that the Department for Education and Ofqual ran about the changes to qualifications due to COVID-19.

We hope to continue to update the Register of Change annually, and to publish the latest version on our website. If you notice anything important that you think we have missed, or anything that you think may be inaccurate, please let us know so that we can include/change it in the next update.

References:

1↩ Rushton, N. (2022). Register of Change Part 1 2000-2010. Cambridge University Press & Assessment Research Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press & Assessment.

2↩ Rushton, N. & Ireland, J. (2022). Register of Change Part 2 2010- 2021. Cambridge University Press & Assessment Research Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press & Assessment..

3↩ Rushton, N (2022). Covid-19 related changes 2020-21: A Register of Change supplementary document. Cambridge University Press & Assessment Research Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press & Assessment..

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