Despite what the papers may tell you, sitting your A Levels in 2011 isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. Besides the blind panic of revision, fears of “black-listed” subjects and the girl who throws up halfway through, it certainly doesn’t help when the question paper itself is wrong.
In a seemingly endless string of exam paper errors this summer, it seemed that no subject or exam board were safe. A maths paper featured an unanswerable question worth an astonishing 11% of marks, with other such impossibilities found in subjects as far ranging as Biology and Geography to Buisness studies.
Finally, almost five months on, Minsters are set to announce radical and immediate changes to the regulating body, OfQual. The proposals, to be aired on Tuesday, would see the board having the instant power to impose monetary fines on any exam board making such errors.
Yet already the plans have come under fire from schools and head teachers, claiming the fines will simply become a fine on schools, as exam boards push up already extortionate prices to accommodate the fees.
The strongest power currently held by OfQual is it’s right to ban boards from setting exams in specific qualifications and it’s ability to withdraw academic recognition, yet it’s widely agreed that these measures are far to extreme and disruptive.
But perhaps the real problem with our examinations system is not the sanctions we can or cannot impose on boards, but the educational business culture we have created. The errors themselves are a product of a system focussed on profit, as boards cut back on quality control checks to increase cash flow coming in and design courses simply to look more appealing to schools, rather provide a sound academic basis. It may sound idealistic, but the only real focus of education should be that of the learning our students gain.
Though a fines system is not without controversy, in a system where the only motivation is money, the only way we can make an impact on exam boards and improve the experience of students is to make a penalty system focussed on money.
Ideally we’d all love to live in a world where the only focus is learning, but sadly in the meantime of reality, if exam boards want to act like businesses on a education production line, then that’s exactly how we’ll have to treat them.