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Ofqual says English schools unprepared for online assessment


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Schools in England are insufficiently prepared for a wide adoption of online assessments for GCSEs and A levels, according to the exams regulator.

Ofqual has highlighted the shortcomings in a review of the outlook which it began prior to the Covid-19 outbreak and which has become more significant with the pandemic’s disruption of schooling.

It comes amid calls from some quarters for classroom exams to be cancelled for the current academic year, due to worries over further lockdowns and possible transmission of the virus.

The review, which makes comparisons with progress on the issue in New Zealand, Finland and Israel, outlines five major problems that it says will prevent a large scale move to running standardised tests online in the immediate future.

One involves large variations in the IT provision from schools and colleges and their ability to quickly prepare for a change. Different devices, browsers and operating systems could lead to compatibility issues, creating disadvantages for some students, and there will be a significant cost in improving the IT provision.

Another is that many schools and pupils, especially in rural areas, are hampered by insufficient or unreliable internet and local network capabilities.

Thirdly, schools and colleges have highlighted the shortage of specialist IT staff and the challenges in training other staff, including teachers and examinations officers, to work with the technology.

Fourthly, it would be very difficult for them to manage the security risks consistently.

Finally, there is a need for robust risk management and disaster recovery plans that are highly challenging to set up in the time available.

Difficult timescale

Ofqual says that none of these are insurmountable, but they would make it very difficult to shift to online testing for this academic year.

The review makes a number of recommendations for overcoming the barriers, including: jurisdiction-wide initiatives to invest in the necessary infrastructure; redesigning what should be assessed to forms that support on-screen assessments; testing and piloting of new software; providing practice platforms to students; and providing clear guidance for teachers, IT staff and exams officers.

Its conclusion states: “Whilst the barriers identified are real, many are not unique to the circumstances in England.

“Each jurisdiction we looked at has taken a different path to implementation, making different choices as to how to manage the barriers in their specific circumstances to meet the needs of their students, qualifications users and broader education systems and to deliver the purpose and benefits the changes aimed for.”

Image from iStock, monkeybusiness images

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