Exams: Some colleges ‘unnecessarily’ doing too many ‘plan B’ tests

'Small number' of colleges have 'created a large number of new and additional mock exams and assessments'

'Small number' of colleges have 'created a large number of new and additional mock exams and assessments'

Some schools and colleges are “unnecessarily” getting students to take too many tests as part of “plan B” exams preparation, the government has admitted.

The Department for Education and Ofqual have issued draft guidance on how education providers should collect teacher assessed grades (TAGs) evidence as part of “long-term resilience arrangements” for exams from 2024 onwards.

While cancellation of GCSE and A-level exams nationwide is “unlikely”, they said it “remains good public policy to have contingency arrangements”.

The government faced fierce criticism for not having an “off-the-shelf plan B” when exams were cancelled for a second time in early 2021 due to the pandemic. 

Schools and colleges are currently collecting students’ performance evidence for the third year in a row, just in case the exams for some reason cannot be sat.

But in new draft guidance, Ofqual and DfE said in the last three years “we have seen some examples of schools [and colleges] introducing additional assessments for the purpose of gathering evidence of student performance, which we consider to be unnecessary and counter to supporting students as they prepare for their exams”.

“We are keen that students benefit from the opportunities they are given to prepare for their exams, and certainly are not adversely affected by taking too many assessments.”

They added a “small number” of schools and colleges “created a large number of new and additional mock exams and assessments” this year.

The new guidance states that one full set of mock exams sat in exam conditions is “likely to provide sufficient evidence” for TAGs. There is “no need” to complete multiple mock sets for evidence, they said.

This year they stopped short of repeating advice on the frequency of testing after previously saying a “sensible approach” would be to test once a term.

Ofqual and DfE fear over-assessment could “lead to reduced teaching and study time and additional exam-related anxiety”.

Similar guidance to 2023

The rest of the proposals are similar to the guidance in place for this summer.

For example, teachers should plan so that the gathered evidence assessed pupils “on a wide range of content” which is similar to their summer exams.

Students should be told, where possible, before taking any test whether it would form part of the evidence base for TAGs.

Half of schools consulted last year on the 2023 guidance said the plans would increase workload.

Ofqual has also since heard from students that while some found the plan B arrangements “beneficial” to prepare for exams, others felt “greater anxiety” mock exams could be used for final grades.

The exams regulator is also asking for views on updating its conditions so the plan B proposals can be put in place.

VTQ arrangements

For VTQs used alongside or instead of GCSEs, AS and A levels for progression to further or higher study, Ofqual propose that similar arrangements should be put in place to general qualifications, but these would “need to be set by awarding organisations to allow the arrangements to reflect the design of their qualifications”.

“We propose that it should be for awarding organisations to determine if and/or what such guidance might be, noting the need for them to take into account the proposed approach for GCSEs and A-levels,” today’s guidance said.

“This would include Technical Qualifications within T Levels. For other VTQs, which assess occupational or professional competence, proficiency, or act as a licence to practise, these resilience arrangements would not apply.”

The overall consultation runs until August 2.

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