Competition between exam boards creates "significant pressure to drive down the standards of exams", the Education Committee has concluded in a report published today (3rd July) following a year-long inquiry.
However, the committee has rejected the idea of moving to a single national exam board or to single boards for each subject.
The cross-party committee says exam boards should be stripped of the right to own their own syllabus and content and suggests instead that there should be a single national syllabus for each subject, accredited by exams regulator Ofqual, with every exam board able to set question papers against that syllabus.
Chair of the committee Graham Stuart said it was necessary to stop the "dumbing down" of courses and exams. "You could move to a single national exam board which would stop the 'race to the bottom' but the change would be disruptive and threaten innovation and cost control. Alternatively there are benefits to having one exam board per subject but such 'franchising' would create its own difficulties over pricing, tendering and the concentration of expertise.
"We believe the best reform would be the creation of National Syllabuses. There could be a competition, such as the Secretary of State has already suggested, to decide which exam board would design the syllabus for a particular subject which would then be accredited by the regulator, Ofqual. After that any board could set an exam for that syllabus and compete on innovation, efficiency, service and support."
Colin Hughes, m.d. of HarperCollins Education, said the Committee was "heading in the right direction" but that his suspicion was that education secretary Michael Gove would want to move further in the direction of one board per exam. "The Committee is arguing that it helps to maintain some competition between exam boards; my view is that there is no evidence that competition has improved performance, price or efficiency over the past
decade," he said.
The committee's report also raises concerns about examiners writing textbooks, saying it creates a conflict of interest. Hughes commented: "We agree with that. We'd like to see textbook publication taken away from exam boards completely, and to have a clear divide between the makers of the exam and the creators of the resources."