From education to employment

Rising concern about the effects and educational value of exams at 16+

Commenting on the passing of Motion 35 at the Annual Conference of the National Education Union, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“With this resolution, the Union adds its voice to the rising concern about the effects and educational value of exams at 16+. Michael Gove’s GCSE reforms have had serious negative consequences for many English students, narrowing their choices, increasing the likelihood of stress and disengagement, and failing to prepare them for work and life in a society whose demands are complex and changing.

“As a result of this resolution, the Union will be working alongside the many other organisations which are developing alternatives to the current system of assessment, curriculum and qualification in secondary schools and colleges. Change is going to come, and teachers and lecturers will be aiming to shape it.”

These reports describe a programme of research that Ofqual is conducting to assess the functioning of vocational and technical qualifications.


Vocational and Technical Qualifications: Assessment Functioning of external assessments An overview of the functioning of assessments in 27 qualifications and 49 units (Black, He and Holmes, 2017)

Ref: Ofqual/17/6319PDF, 715KB, 25 pages

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Vocational and Technical Qualifications: assessment functioning of examinations in performance table qualifications

Ref: Ofqual/19/6501PDF, 1.51MB, 27 pages


These reports provide an overview of the technical functioning of external tests, or units, from vocational qualifications, which are on or going onto Department for Education performance tables.

The first wave of research considered assessment functioning in 27 qualifications; the second wave looked at a different set of 20 qualifications. Overall, the majority of tests analysed in both waves functioned well or reasonably well. However, there were some tests which had poor functioning, either because too many items within the test had poor functioning or because the test design was below optimal.

Awarding organisations must have due regard to credible evidence which suggests that a change in its approach to the development, delivery and award of qualifications is required in order to ensure that the approach remains appropriate.

Each awarding organisation received an overall report summarising how their units performed in relation to the other tests, as well as a report for each test included in the research.

Published 21 November 2017
Last updated 18 April 2019 + show all updates

  1. Additional document published
  2. First published.

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