Cambridge Assessment was established as the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) in 1858. We were set up to raise standards in education through public examinations for schools, and we also inspected schools.
Of the major three surviving UK exam boards, Cambridge Assessment has the longest history of providing examinations for schools. The first UCLES exams took place on 14 December 1858, in eight UK regions: Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Grantham, Liverpool, London and Norwich.
The presiding examiners travelled, usually by train, wearing academical dress and carrying a locked box containing the question papers, to ensure that the exams were carried out in the proper manner.
There have been many changes to the education system over the years but the ethos that sparked the creation of our organisation still drives our work today; we continue to strive for the ongoing improvement to assessment systems and methodologies used around the world to ensure learners access the benefits of their education.
We utilised our extensive expertise in assessment to create a series of special events to mark our 150th anniversary.
Today's pupils attempted 150-year-old exams
We visited several of the UK schools that entered candidates for the first ‘Cambridge’ school exams (back in 1858). Today's pupils experienced an '1858 style' lesson and had the opportunity to try questions from our 1858 exam papers.
Our Archives Service has published a book of our 1858 examination papers along with our first exam timetable and regulations, and feedback written by our examiners in the 1850s. The introduction comprises comments by current examiners and subject officers of various disciplines. A selection of questions can be viewed through the link on the left of this page and copies of the full publication are available for GBP 3.50 each (plus GBP 3.50 postage and packaging) from OCR Publications.
Special publications that give a unique insight into years gone by
A unique insight into the history of exams – from the introduction of the first Cambridge school examinations in the UK to their adoption around the world – has been captured in a book; Examining the World: A History of the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. The book has been published by Cambridge University Press and is available to purchase online (visit the Cambridge University Press website).
View our online exhibition which features more than 40 reproduced documents and photographs from our Archives. The exhibition includes bribery letters, examiner reports, eye-witness accounts of hardship during the First and Second World Wars and past exam questions.
Seminar: Innovations in 14-19 education around the world
More than 100 international education professionals heard a panel of distinguished contributors discuss the challenges and opportunities within 14-19 education on their continents. Our event was hosted by Ian Pearson MP, Minister of State for Science & Innovation, and chaired by former BBC education journalist Mike Baker.
We hosted two major assessment conferences: ALTE 2008 and IAEA 2008
The Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) 3rd International Conference was hosted by Cambridge ESOL in Cambridge. ALTE Cambridge 2008 was a major multilingual event attended by more than 500 professionals with an interest in language assessment and associated issues.
We hosted the biggest ever International Association for Educational Assessment (IAEA) Annual Conference in Cambridge from 7-12 September. The theme of IAEA 2008 was Re-interpreting Assessment: Society, Measurement and Meaning. Nearly 500 delegates from 58 countries attended. The IAEA Annual Conference is recognised as a major event in assessment, bringing together leading assessment and education experts and providers of examinations from around the world and providing a forum for participants to share professional expertise and strengthen mutual understanding and relationships.
Our time capsule chest
We marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the 'Cambridge' exam week on 15 December by placing a time capsule chest into our Archives. The contents of the chest will provide future generations with a snapshot of assessment in 2008 as well as a record of our 150th anniversary celebrations.