Sixth-formers should take an additional subject in year 12 assessed solely by speaking tests to broaden the curriculum while curbing the risk of AI chatbot cheating, a think tank has said.
A report from EDSK also recommended that the extended project qualification should become compulsory, but be ungraded, and sixth-form funding should be increased to expand the curriculum as they grapple with the rise of generative AI systems such as ChatGPT.
The development of more sophisticated “generative” AI has prompted widespread concern in education, albeit alongside hope that such technology could have a positive impact on teacher workload. Exam boards and the government recently published guidance for schools on its use.
Today, EDSK, which is run by Tom Richmond a former Department for Education adviser, warned written exams must “continue to be the main method of assessing students’ knowledge and understanding”.
“In contrast, placing a greater emphasis on coursework and other forms of ‘teacher assessment’ would increase teachers’ workload and lead to less reliable grades that may be biased against students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
There was “no realistic prospect” of teachers, headteachers or exam boards being able to consistently detect malpractice, making coursework-style tasks unsuitable for A-levels and other high-stakes exams.
Exams don’t reflect ‘wider skills’
However, EDSK has also recommended some changes to the qualifications pupils sit in the sixth form, warning that written exams “focus on testing students’ knowledge and understanding in written form in a silent exam hall, rather than reflecting the wider skills that many employers and universities prize”.
To broaden the curriculum and develop a “wider range of skills than those promoted by written exams”, students aged 16 to 19 taking classroom-based courses “should be required to take one additional subject in year 12”. This would be “examined entirely through an oral assessment”.
To ensure students could develop their research and writing skills beyond exams, the think tank also said the extended project qualification should be made compulsory.
However, it should be used as a “low-stakes skills development programme”, and should “therefore be ungraded”.
To allow schools to expand their curriculum to include the additional subject and extended project, per-pupil funding for sixth forms should rise by £200 a year to reach £6,000 by 2030.
Richmond said the best way to produce rigorous and credible grades while guarding against malpractice, “particularly when faced with increasingly sophisticated AI”, was to keep written exams but add in new challenges to help students develop a broader range of skills.
“The future of assessment for A-level students should therefore be a combination of written exams and oral exams alongside an independent research project of their choice.”