Lifelong Learning - Go on start learning today at!

What's New
Opinion Poll
Site Map
Contact Us

Click here for user-friendly browsing via our key site learning themes.
Latest News
Developing the qualification system
By Steve Besley

24 May 2012


Ofqual’s new Corporate Plan published last week points to some important developments being lined up for the qualification system. Chief among these are some changes to GCSEs and A levels but also to the regulatory system and the market generally. Further developments may follow pending the outcomes of the Select Committee Inquiry, the National Curriculum Review and the consultation on A levels but the direction of travel is clear and four principles evident: a relentless focus on standards; a heavy sourcing of international benchmarking evidence; a finessing of regulatory powers; and a strengthening of public confidence


The qualification and exam system is a large scale operation: 18,000 regulated qualifications, 179 accredited Awarding Organisations (AOs,) 16m awards annually. According to Ofqual’s latest survey, public confidence in the system remains pretty high yet issues of standards over time, grade inflation and teaching to the test remain pertinent. Armed now with new powers, Ofqual has developed a 3-year plan to deal with these and other issues

How is Ofqual intending to tackle things?

First by laying out a clear ‘battle plan’ in the form of this first Corporate Plan. Second by focusing on securing public confidence through such means as publishing a stock take of standards and creating transparent qualification system maps. Third, by refocusing the regulatory system on risks and outcomes, scrutinising the market particularly at entry and exit points and building in flexibilities such as allowing AOs to go direct to market with proven qualifications. Fourth, by strengthening sources of expert guidance through comparability studies, international benchmarking exercises and the creation of a Standards Advisory Group. And fifth, by reviewing parts of the qualification system

What does this mean for the qualification and assessment system?

  • Key Stage 1. Review of the implementation of the phonics screening check and early years developments
  • Key Stage 2. An international benchmarking exercise on assessment arrangements, monitoring of reporting arrangements
  • GCSE. Initially, implementation of new linear arrangements, any required spec changes and provision for Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar along with a review of controlled assessment arrangements and an international benchmarking exercise. And following on, reviews of the GCSE design rules and the grading scale along with the development of clearer qualification brand guidelines
  • A level. Following up the findings from the recent international benchmarking exercise, a review of A level structures, assessment and HE involvement
  • Vocational Qualifications. A series of reviews mainly around the adult market including Functional Skills and ESOL qualifications, the nature of the QCF and employer requirements, standards and assessment arrangements and the operation of the VQ market generally

© Steve Besley, Head of Policy, The Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning 2012.