Ofqual puts exams boards on alert for online assessments shift

Ofqual will consider fresh approaches to exams as part of its new three-year corporate plan

Ofqual is to investigate the feasibility of enabling exam boards to shift to online assessments.

The proposition forms part of the exams regulator’s comprehensive new three-year corporate plan.

The 2022-25 plan states that Ofqual will “engage with awarding organisations to support the use of innovative practice and technology and remove regulatory barriers where innovation promotes valid and efficient assessment”.

It also affirms that there will be consideration of “approaches to the regulation of innovative practices and technology to make sure these promote valid and efficient assessment, and are implemented safely in the interests of students”.

Ian Bauckham, Ofqual chair, explained the reasoning behind the plans.

“Ofqual’s deep assessment expertise, access to expansive data and our convening power afford us a unique role in shaping the future of qualifications and assessment,” he said.

“The pandemic has, rightly, catalysed questions about not if, but when, and how, greater use of technology and onscreen assessment should be adopted.

“All proposed changes need to be carefully assessed for their impact on students, including those with special educational needs and disabilities.

“It is right that we use research and evidence to challenge existing practice so that we continue to improve what we offer for students and apprentices.”

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The proposed move to online assessment was welcomed by Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

“We are delighted that Ofqual is going to look at new approaches to exams, including the use of technology, and that it intends to work with the awarding organisations to this end,” he said.

“Our current reliance on a pen-and-paper exam system, organised at an industrial scale with Fort Knox-style security arrangements around the transportation and storing of papers, is hopelessly outdated and ripe for reform.

“The recent experience of the pandemic has shown just how vulnerable it is to unexpected events. If online assessment had been available, it might not have been necessary to cancel all summer exams for two years in a row.

“It will clearly be necessary to carefully test and integrate new online systems to ensure their reliability and validity, and we look forward to working with Ofqual and the awarding organisations on how this may work.”

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