Education policy beyond 2015: getting it right on the ground

Thursday 6 Nov 2014

Parliamentarians, education experts and policymakers joined AQA for its annual parliamentary reception this week to discuss how to inform and shape education policies that will work in the classroom.

At the event, hosted by Pat Glass MP, one of the key themes under discussion was the use of assessment research data and expertise to provide a sound evidence-base for policy-makers. Speakers also reflected on the future direction of education reforms after next year's general election and the importance of public understanding of, and confidence in, assessment.

Alex Scharaschkin, Director of AQA's Centre for Education Research and Practice (CERP), provided insights into the role of research in assessment and the quality of marking, and said that to really understand the impact of policy, you needed to go to primary sources and look at the data. CERP has developed its assessment expertise over forty years and is a key part of AQA's assessment operation. It provides cutting-edge research and technical expertise, challenging the sector to adopt best practice.

Alex said: "Research is at the heart of everything we do and has such an important role to play in developing policy. CERP has a long heritage in providing policymakers with sound evidence and data to help them make the right decisions.

"In designing assessment there is always a balance to be struck between validity and reliability. If we want to assess candidates' abilities to write prose, construct arguments or speak a language by requiring them to do those tasks, then there we need to allow for professional judgement  in marking and not just the multiple choice or factual-type of answers that are used in the PISA tests."

Dr Tim Leunig, Chief Analyst and Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Education, spoke about being an examiner and understanding the complexities around marking exams. Dr Leunig commented on the scale of the system and the role that leading exam boards could play in civic society. He also highlighted the DfE's funding for evidence-based research, including making research data accessible to schools and research organisations.

Dame Rachel de Souza, Chief Executive of the Inspiration Trust, talked about her work in transforming schools and taking the opportunity presented by policy changes to make changes on the ground. Dame Rachel has turned around two failing schools in difficult circumstances, with each school achieving an "outstanding" Ofsted rating within three years. She also spoke about the transformational power of education research and policy and how it can help us meet the needs of young people.

AQA's Chief Executive Andrew Hall closed the event by reiterating AQA's commitment to use its research to 'design quality into qualifications, rather than inspecting it in' and confirmed that the organisation was also working closely with teachers to achieve this.