‘This isn’t the end of pen-and-paper exams’, Pearson says as English GCSEs set to go on-screen

The board is the latest to announce its timeline for digital assessment, but will still offer the choice of paper-based exams

The board is the latest to announce its timeline for digital assessment, but will still offer the choice of paper-based exams

Pearson Edexcel is planning to give students the option to take all GCSEs on-screen by 2030, starting with English next summer. 

The exam board announced today that up to 125,000 students could choose to take GCSE English language and English literature on-screen in summer 2025. This is subject to Ofqual approval. 

Schools and colleges would still have the option to offer paper-based exams.

It is the third exam board in recent months to set a timeline on moving exams on-screen. 

But college leaders have claimed on-screen exams would be “logistically impossible” for college learners taking GCSE resits.

Eddie Playfair, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said: “We welcome the introduction of this new on-screen assessment option. It’s important for assessment methods to keep up with the way we use technology today, and some colleges will want to pilot an on-screen approach.

“Across England, colleges enter over 100,000 candidates a year for GCSE English and entries in many colleges are counted in the thousands. This means that there simply won’t be enough technology available for all candidates to access on-screen assessment. So, while welcome, this will not be an option for the majority of candidates for the time being.”

“Logistically impossible to do this so it won’t be an option for post-16. But of course awarding bodies will know that from the full and thorough consultation they’ll have done with colleges?” said Anna Dawe, principal of Wigan and Leigh College in a tweet posted this morning.

GCSE resit numbers are on the rise in England. Over 60,000 November GCSE entries were provisionally recorded for English Language resits in 2023, a 29 per cent rise from the year prior, according to Ofqual.

Sharon Hague, managing director for Pearson Schools, said this is a “pivotal moment” and they’ve heard “loud and clear from students and teachers that they want a choice in how they take exams”.

“This absolutely isn’t the end of pen-and-paper exams. It’s about opening up more ways for all students to best show what they know and can do. By 2030, our ambition is for all GCSEs to have both paper-based and onscreen formats.” 

Pearson added an on-screen component to its GCSE computer science in 2022. It has also been piloting on-screen tests in international GCSEs. 

Hague added on-screen is a “better experience for students who need accessibility adjustments”. 

“Students can zoom in to increase font size and choose colour filters on-screen during exams, something their schools or college would otherwise need to request in advance of their exams.

“Onscreen brings benefits for all students too. They can highlight and annotate information, cut and paste text and make easy edits to their answers. 

“It’s what many students are used to doing when they work at home and in the classroom and it’s undoubtedly how they will work in their careers too.”

Ofqual to evaluate proposals ‘in detail’

In October, England’s largest exam board AQA set out its timeline to move some exams on-screen, with a large-entry subject like English going digital by 2030.

Research by the board found one of the biggest barriers to digital exams was a lack of infrastructure, such as devices in schools and colleges. 

Last month, OCR said pupils sitting GCSE computer science will be able to sit digital rather than paper-based exams in 2025.

Exams regulator Ofqual is currently undertaking a feasibility study alongside the government on “what it would take” to make GCSE and A-level exams “fully digital”.

Ofqual chief regulator Sir Ian Bauckham said the exams regulator is “committed to supporting well-evidenced innovation in how examinations are taken”. 

“We will evaluate in detail Pearson’s proposals when they are submitted for review.  Our priority will be making sure the approach is fair to all students, whether they take their GCSE on screen or continue to do so on paper.”

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