So are examinations no longer ‘fit for purpose’ or is it simply a question of trust?
Public qualifications – and therefore providers of high stakes assessments – depend on trust; the trust of candidates, educators, employers and society at large. However, trust needs to be earned, and once earned, protected.
The issue of trust has never been more pressing against a backdrop of increased public and political scrutiny. Over recent years the summer exam results have been greeted with widespread negative media coverage in the UK and much debate about what is happening to standards. This is coupled with major upheaval in national education systems around the world as they struggle to come to terms with a global economy and vast technological changes.
At Cambridge Assessment, we believe that the continual Government-driven changes to UK education over recent years have created bewilderment and confusion. We have seen a growing demand from schools wanting their students to take international qualifications – outside of the UK regulatory framework – such as the IB, IGCSE and the new Cambridge Pre-U.
Speaking at the International Association for Educational Association (IAEA) 2008 conference held in Cambridge, Simon Lebus, Group Chief Executive of Cambridge Assessment, questioned whether the lack of trust was putting standards at risk. It attracted much media attention as his comments resonated among the education community.
Criticism of candidates’ performance in examinations is nothing new. Cambridge Assessment’s 1858 examiner reports – recently published as part of our 150th anniversary celebrations – claimed that candidates sitting our first examination session 150 years ago had “little indication of an acquaintance with the best elementary mathematics works” and “much fluency but not much thought”.
In order to restore trust and confidence in the UK examination system, an independent qualifications regulator, Ofqual, has been created. It will be fully independent of Government. Cambridge Assessment welcomes the move to create an independent regulator – something we have long championed. However, we remain concerned that the Government will not relinquish its control of how qualifications are designed and, as influential experts in assessment, we will continue to be closely involved in the debate.