House of Commons Education Committee hears from the heads of the main three UK exam boards

22 February 2012

On 21 February, the Committee interviewed representatives from publishers Nelson Thornes, Pearson UK, Oxford University Press and the Society of Authors, together with the heads of the three main UK exam boards - OCR, AQA and Pearson UK (Edexcel's owner).

Watch the proceedings online at Parliament TV 

Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of our UK exam board OCR, said that standards should be the regulator's focus and everything else should follow. "Our job is to maintain standards and Ofqual’s is to make sure that happens” he said. “We need a strong and capable Ofqual for exams to work, but we need to define what we want in standards."

In January, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment, Tim Oates, warned the Committee against further radical changes to the exam system, which he said had compromised standards over recent decades.

Greater transparency is also important. Mark explained: "Twenty years ago a select few had the inside track, and now we’ve made sure everyone has the chance to become better at taking exams, with every teacher given the chance to find out about the exams.” Seminars were an important part of this transparency, but as the recent Telegraph investigation has shown, there needs to be a proper debate about where the line is drawn. To regain public trust Mark suggested that any examiner who knew the questions pupils could be asked should not be allowed at the seminars.

There was also public concern regarding loss of breadth of learning he said, which could be restored through making higher education the custodian of A Levels, ensuring universities get what they want. In OCR’s discussions with universities many exams were seen as the gold standard, but there were some bits missing. “Often it’s not knowledge that’s missing but skills, including critical thinking."

OCR has been implementing a wide-ranging HE engagement programme in relation to the next round of A Level change. Find out more.

The Committee is exploring: the arguments in favour of and against having a range of awarding bodies for academic and applied qualifications; how to ensure accuracy in setting papers, marking scripts, and awarding grades; and the commercial activities of awarding bodies, including examination fees and textbooks, and their impact on schools and pupils. Read our evidence on the merits of alternative arrangements.

Our factsheets provide an overview of the content and design of UK A Levels and GCSEs, the role of exam boards and the regulator, and how these qualifications are created and marked.