England’s largest exam board is investigating whether a new “Duolingo-like” on-screen, on-demand test could help young people who repeatedly fail GCSE maths and English.
AQA is exploring whether a numeracy and literacy assessment would support more pupils who don’t get the grade 4 in both subjects needed to complete an apprenticeship or get a job.
It follows calls from the Association of School and College Leaders for a “passport” in the two subjects – a test taken between 15 and 19 when the pupil is ready.
In pre-pandemic 2019, just 30 per cent of pupils aged 17 or more achieved a grade 4 or above in English; 21 per cent in maths.
AQA is in the early stages of consulting school and college leaders and employers.
Ed Reza Schwitzer, the board’s head of external affairs, compared the potential assessment to the Duolingo app for learning languages, which also has an English proficiency assessment accepted by 4,000 universities worldwide.
“Most people will accept now that Duolingo is a pretty good measure that someone can speak a language.
“So there’s a world in which you say – actually this young person hasn’t necessarily got a good grade on their maths GCSE, they want to do this apprenticeship, would it be enough to have a high-quality assessment from some sort of on-demand, on-screen provider?
“But it would be enough to say actually yes I can do statistics, I can do proportions and the kind of numeracy you need me to do to do this apprenticeship.”
Tom Middlehurst, ASCL’s assessment specialist, said the union was “encouraged” by the research, but would prefer to see a new qualification.
Dr Michelle Meadows, the former deputy Ofqual regulator, said AQA’s plan could help. “But we need to invest in creating programmes of teaching and learning that really engage and support pupils who find maths and literacy very challenging.
“Without this foundation, even the cleverest approach to assessment won’t get us very far in solving this enduring problem.”
Kate Shoesmith, from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said many people had the skill sets in literacy and numeracy for work or vocational qualifications, but struggled to sit “really pressurised” exams. “Anything that unlocks potential has to be positive.”