Diversity in qualifications and examinations is a unique feature of the English, Welsh, and Northern Irish education landscapes. Contrary to the prevailing view, the authors of this volume take as their starting point that this diversity is a good thing and should be preserved. In a comprehensive re-think of the current arrangements in regard to qualifications, assessment, and accountability in England, the authors argue that choice and competition in qualifications and examinations are not the fundamental problem, which has much more to do with detailed, and yet ill-informed, government intervention in the market.
In recent years, the integrity of the national equivalency frameworks and methods employed in these countries to ensure that all are of comparable standard, and that awarding bodies’ verdicts are therefore trustworthy, have increasingly been called into question. There is broad consensus among stakeholders that perverse incentives have arisen because of a preoccupation with comparability of outcomes and the imposition of unhelpful equivalency frameworks, and as a result of the use of measures of student achievement for accountability purposes. Politicians of every hue need to take more care and work to develop a healthy overall framework within which competition might work more constructively.
More recently political concern about the parity of different qualifications and the educational and career pathways associated with them has given way to an overriding concern to make education and qualifications more demanding in respect of content mastery and the cognitive and communication skills required for success. Both the ranges of subjects and qualifications on offer have narrowed accordingly. At its extreme, the drive towards consolidation has issued in calls to place greater controls on competition between boards and even to abolish the existing market outright through the creation of a unitary national exam board.
But should we really blame pressures on quality in the examination system on market incentives, or does responsibility for the present impasse lie rather more with government’s failure to attend properly to the design of the incentive structure and regulatory framework? Going forward, is increased regulation the answer? Would monopolisation sort out the problems? It is even feasible? If improving the incentives in the market should be the reform priority, how might this be done?
This monograph tackles these questions and many more. With contributions from leading thinkers in the field, it challenges the prevailing view that market forces are to blame for the system’s current ills, and offers a variety of policy solutions, often experimental, to incentivise consistent attention to quality in the system.
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Heller Sahlgren, Gabriel, red. (2014), Tests Worth Teaching to: Incentivising Quality in Qualifications and Accountability. London, UK: Centre for Market Reform of Education.