The government is considering scrapping four exam boards and replacing them with a single body which would set questions for GCSEs and A-levels, it has been reported.
Ministers are said to be considering getting rid of the England and Wales exam boards – AQA, OCR, Pearson-owned Edexcel, and WJEC – and having the government produce papers instead, said the Mail on Sunday.
It is one option under consideration by the government.
Schools minister Nick Gibb told the newspaper that he was concerned about the quality of questions being produced by the boards, and said: “I have commissioned officials to look seriously and urgently at the case for reform.
“One of the issues is whether it makes sense to have three or four exam boards competing for market share among schools. We now have commercial or quasi-commercial organisations that are increasingly revenue-driven. There is a case for long-term, fundamental reform.”
Ministers believe, said the Mail on Sunday, that competition between the boards to persuade schools to buy their papers encourages a “race to the bottom”.
Pearson directed The Bookseller to a statement from Michael Turner, director general of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), who said the current system provided schools with 'choice'.
“Exam boards have received no details of the Minister’s plans but look forward to discussing these with him and his officials in due course," Turner said. "JCQ believes that the current system provides schools, colleges and learners with choice in terms of qualification content and delivery. Exam boards do not and cannot compete on standards. There is an effective regulator in place to ensure that this does not happen.”
The news that the government is considering changes comes just days after Ofqual published its final report of an investigation of marking issues identified at the exam board OCR last summer.
Ofqual had to intervene following concerns it had identified about the exam board’s ability to mark all its 2014 GCSE and A-level papers on time.
The report found that OCR’s restructure impacted on the summer 2014 series, that it had limited understanding of assessors’ availability, and that there was a lack of understanding among key senior managers of the end-to-end process of marking and awarding.