Ofqual to remove independent advisers from exams procedure review service

The final decisions on exam appeals will now only be taken by  Ofqual, as the exams regulator proceeds with proposals to remove external, independent advisers from the process.

Schools that have concerns about an awarding organisation’s marking or moderation, or the way it has applied special consideration or reasonable adjustments, can appeal to the exams procedure review service for a final decision to be made if they are not satisfied with the outcome of the awarding organisation’s internal appeal procedures.

Ofqual consulted on making changes to the service between February and March this year, including the a proposal to remove external advisers from the panel which considers applications and leave the final decision up to Ofqual members.

Many cases are decided before reaching the panel stage. EPRS panels currently consist of one Ofqual member and two external panellists, with the final decision made by the Ofqual member. The external panellists have an “advisory” role to assist in the decision making.

According to the original Ofqual consultation, external panellists have “limited” input and the issues of compliance discussed are often “outside their expertise”, but they are paid £350 per day plus expenses.

However, removing the external advisers was opposed by the Association of School and College Leaders. In its consultation response, ASCL said it understood the “resource implications” of employing external panellists but did not agree with the proposal to make the EPRS an “internal Ofqual process”.

“ASCL members believe that the inclusion of independent representation on the panel ensures accountability, fairness and appropriate and relevant challenge,” the response said.

“The opportunity for independent representatives on the panel to question decisions provides a degree of consistency, fairness and transparency.”

Commenting on Ofqual’s decision, Duncan Baldwin, deputy director of policy at ASCL, said it was “disappointing”.

“We recognise that Ofqual is an independent regulator but having an external voice on the panel does give an extra degree of confidence in the robustness of the system.

“However, we know that Ofqual has listened to our concerns and will be very conscious of the importance of being able to demonstrate fairness and consistency in decision-making and be increasingly transparent regarding this process.”

But Ofqual has said these concerns “perhaps reflect a misunderstanding” about the proposals, and insisted that EPRS “is and has always been an Ofqual process”.

“In reality, the new process does not require any significant change to our processes, because the majority of EPRS decisions now are made by members of Ofqual staff, with only a small majority involving a panel decision.

“These decision makers are appointed in accordance with our usual governance principles, which will continue to inform the appointment of decision makers in future cases.”

Other changes that will be made to the process include removing the use of formal hearings and extending the remit of the EPRS to include technical qualifications. The changes will come into effect for exams held this summer.