The exam question

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Sam Freedman

August 23, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at changing the model of exam assessment reform.

The question of whether exams taken at 16 and 18 in England are effective and proportionate is a vexed one. Secondary assessment in the highly centralised English system is particularly high stakes and multi-purposed – being used to test young people’s understanding of the national curriculum, provide the basis for their further and higher education applications and hold the schools they attend accountable for performance. Disruption during the pandemic has only heightened concerns about the fairness and practicality of the system, with many politicians and sections of the media calling for wholesale reform. While GCSEs and A-levels are certainly imperfect, the proposals for overhauling the system typically exaggerate the benefits while failing to acknowledge the costs. Education systems are interconnected and changing one major component dramatically can cause upheaval elsewhere. Moreover, the last thing schools need as they deal with the after-effects of the pandemic and ever tighter funding is another assessment revolution. Instead, this paper argues that the education system in England should move to a new model of incremental improvement rather than periods of stasis followed by highly disruptive change.