Ofqual chief admits exam board mistakes caused ‘distress’

Chief regulator Jo Saxton also told school leaders handwriting is 'here to stay', and warn they face worse results than 2021

Chief regulator Jo Saxton also told school leaders handwriting is 'here to stay', and warn they face worse results than 2021

17 Jun 2022, 11:18

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The head of Ofqual has said recent mistakes in exam papers and advance information caused “distress”.

It comes after exam board AQA issued its second apology in a week, after complaints that a 30-mark question in a recent paper was not included in advance information. AQA had also apologised last Friday after a GCSE physics paper included a question on a topic that had been specifically ruled out in advance information.

Meanwhile Edexcel apologised over an error in its GCSE Geography B paper 3 which labelled Gabon as the Democratic Republic of Congo on a map of Africa.

Dr Jo Saxton told academy trust leaders at the Confederation of School Trusts conference today: “You will be familiar with the package of support in place for students for this year’s summer series, all intended to make the path back to pre-pandemic arrangements as smooth as possible.

“I recognise that there have been some real bumps in this road and I absolutely understand the distress that mistakes in advance information and exam papers cause.”

She also said that while students liked the idea of advance information, some had found navigating it “just one other thing to think about”.

But the chief regulator said she hoped that “the overall effect and additional support provided is beneficial.”

Handwriting ‘here to stay’

The speech in Birmingham also saw Saxton, a former trust leader and government adviser, make clear “handwriting is here to stay”.

She reiterated it is a case of “when, not if we move further towards online assessment”, but warned against “throwing out the babies with the bathwater”.

Changes must be “done right”, and Ofqual is now developing the technology and assessment programme through which it will consider “appropriate approaches” to supporting innovation.

Reforms must balance “introducing further good against any harms”, looking at issues including the sector’s needs on infrastructure and access to digital technology. “It just wouldn’t be fair if some learners had access to digital reforms and others didnt.”

Schools face worse results than 2021

Meanwhile Saxton warned leaders that schools achieving higher results than in 2021 this year will be “few and far between, if any”.

On the one hand schools and pupils will see “the most generously graded series of examinations ever”, higher than in 2019, but Saxton added: “Your schools are likely to find results are lower than in 2021 when exams did not go ahead.”

While some individual students may think it suits them that qualifications are “a little bit easier”, it is “actually not collectively in their interests”, she said.

“It is the collective interest that standards are maintained, and that wider society believes those standards are being maintained.”

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