The government should overhaul school performance measures so pupils can access more creative subjects and allow for “alternative” qualifications in its English and maths resits policy, an exam board has said.
But reforms to curriculum and qualifications should be carried out “incrementally”, rather than repeating the “large-scale” changes seen over the past 30 years.
Pearson has published a new report based on a major inquiry into the future of qualifications and assessment in England.
The research involved a survey of more than 6,000 stakeholders across the education system. It was advised by an expert panel including former education secretaries Ken Baker, David Blunkett and Estelle Morris, and ex-Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.
Here are some of the key findings.
1. Overhaul the EBacc so pupils can be more creative
The report found GCSEs were “versatile and valued”, but this should not be “undermined” by recent reforms to the structure of the qualifications.
Accountability measures should “follow, not lead good curriculum and assessment policy”, and schools need a “degree of adaptability” to deliver the curriculum their pupils need.
The report called for changes to the EBacc and Progress 8 performance measures to give teachers more “agency to expose students to broader skill sets”.
For example, for some pupils, a “smaller core of subjects” may work better, letting them access “more creative or practical subjects”.
2. Scrap GCSE resits and allow ‘alternative’ qualifications
Currently, pupils who don’t achieve a grade 4 in GCSE English and maths have to continue studying the subjects in sixth form.
But this “one-size-fits-all” approach fails “too many learners”, with a third not reaching the grade 4 benchmark, and “only a minority” improving their grades on resitting.
The report called for an “urgent rethink” of the resits policy, with “relevant” qualifications which signal proficiency in numeracy and literacy available as an alternative.
3. Reintroduce coursework for some subjects
Pearson said its research indicated a need to “dramatically improve” how skills are assessed.
At present, the pendulum swings “too much in the direction of reliability at the expense of validity”, resulting in assessments “that require learners to demonstrate recalling knowledge at the expense of their skills”.
The drive towards terminal assessment has also led to teachers “feeling they have a reduced
stake in assessment of their learners, with fewer opportunities to personalise teaching”.
The report called for a “culture of innovation”, including the reintroduction of “different forms of assessment” such as “internal assessment or coursework into some subjects where appropriate”.
4. Stop assessment from ‘dictating’ what’s taught
In its report, Pearson warned that “almost all” of what is taught to 14 to 19-year-olds is “dictated” by what is assessed.
The report called for a “single framework” for all 14 to 19-year-olds which would “set out first what should be taught and learned, and then appropriately linked assessment can be designed to test whether the intended learning has taken place”.
This “isn’t about re-writing the curriculum”, but identifying values, skills, and attitudes “which already exist” across programmes of study and in exam content.
5. Choose ‘gradual’ reforms over ‘radical changes’
The report warned that policy cycles “can be too short” to establish strong evidence or sufficient data to support the “radical changes” sometimes proposed.
Reform of qualifications and assessment should therefore shift to an “ongoing cycle of continuous change”, supported by “strong data, impact studies, or evaluation”.
“Gradual changes” that target areas where there is evidence for improvement should be
prioritised “rather than waiting for a single point of reform every 5 to 10 years”.
6. ‘Levelling-up’ requires curriculum diversity
Teachers contributing to the research reported “lost opportunities” to inspire learners.
This happens because of a lack of “space for creativity” in curriculum content to bring in diversity of thought, or because young people “fail to connect with learning because the curriculum does not sufficiently reflect or represent their lives”.
In “levelling-up” standards in schools, the government “must give consideration to greater diversity and representation across the curriculum”.
This should include a “breadth of topics that enable young people to make better connections to the world around them”, as well as highlighting figures “relating to protected characteristics and diverse backgrounds”.
7. Prepare for digital ‘innovations’ to exams
The report found the Covid-19 pandemic had shown that technology in assessments can improve accessibility, reliability and also “address some of the security pressures” where assessments are high stakes.
But the crisis has also “laid bare” inequalities in access to digital resources. This means there is an “urgent need” for a “comprehensive and refreshed” national digital strategy across schools and further education.
To support a “rapid roll-out of assessment innovations”, the starting point is “ensuring learners in all settings have access to devices and high-speed connectivity for teaching and learning”.
There should also be “training in digital skills for teachers, access to online resources and learning platforms, and safeguarding policies”.