Awarding GCSE and GCE - time to reform the code of practice?
By Ben Jones
The theme of this paper is that the process by which national general qualifications - the GCSE and GCE in particular - are awarded is no longer fit for purpose. It is argued that, although the process has changed little since GCE A levels started in 1951, much of the context in which it is practised has changed substantially, and as such it should be reconstructed, perhaps quite radically.
In particular, it is argued that the process has neither adequately kept pace with, nor adapted to, the findings of research projects, developments in technology, and the availability of mass, candidate-level data. Some of its implicit theoretical underpinnings are frequently exposed as ill-founded, it is expensive in terms of both time and money, and is opaque and not conducive to rigorous monitoring and evaluation.
Perhaps most concerning of all is the evidence that strict adherence to the statutory GCSE, GCE and AEA Code of Practice (CoP) (2009) not only provides no guarantee of the alignment of standards - whether between awarding organisations or years - it may actually serve to undermine that aim1.
In short, it is argued that the process is in need of a substantial reform. In section 2 of the paper, the essential features of the awarding process, which are prescribed in part of §6 of the CoP: Awarding, marking review, maintaining an archive and issuing results, are described from AQA's perspective; most details of how other awarding organisations interpret the CoP are not known. A brief description of how little the process has changed over at least twenty-five years is also included. Section 3 comprises a critique of the present arrangements' prime emphasis on examiner judgement, by referring both to formal and informal research evidence which casts doubt on its reliability. In contrast, sections 4 and 5 identify the increasingly available, valid and reliable candidate-level statistical data which are currently used, albeit voluntarily and in a piecemeal way, by awarding organisations to inform their awards.
The shortcomings of relying solely on such data are also identified. Section 6 notes some structural, procedural and political developments which would also argue for a change in emphasis in the approach to awarding, before the summary and discussion in section 7 which proposes how the system might be changed.