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April showers for Edexcel

publication date: May 1, 2008
author/source: Ed Tranham

April wasn’t the best month for the assessment business in general and Edexcel – a Pearson company - in particular. The month saw criticism of the company’s bill to schools and colleges for exams. Then Jerry Jarvis, Edexcel’s managing director, had to twice retract comments he made to the Guardian newspaper about the readiness of schools for the new diploma being introduced to about 40,000 students in September.

April began with a report published by the QCA which estimated the exam bill for schools and colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland at £700m, of which £400m went to exam boards, with the balance being spent on exam invigilators and administration.

A second report looking at the cost of A levels stated that some awarding bodies price their A levels on a subject-by-subject basis while others have adopted a more uniform fee structure, although average fees have fallen by 6.3%. The largest fee differentials between awarding bodies are seen in design and technology, music, and art and design. For example, AQA the market leader has a flat rate of £67 for all of its A levels. But with Edexcel, biology, for example, costs £97 and design and technology £148. Edexcel has the highest average fee, which at £90 is 17% higher than the sector average.
In his comments on the QCA report Mike Cresswell, AQA director-general commented that AQA’s low fees reflect their status ‘as an independent educational charity’ – a pointed reference to Edexcel’s commercial status. However, whether schools and colleges will use price as the single determinant for selecting their awarding bodies and vote with their feet remains to be seen.

In a separate study, the QCA’s market report showed that the use of technology in assessment of vocational qualifications is increasing. In June 2007, 215 qualifications (19% of the total) contained some e-assessment. This represents a growth of 60 new qualifications containing e-assessment over six months – with multiple-choice questions being the most used assessment method. Only a few qualifications use sophisticated interactive tasks such as simulations.

For A levels and GCSEs, 40% of exam scripts are now marked online by the three major awarding bodies. Within this average there is considerable variation between the awarding bodies, with Edexcel marking 86% of all scripts electronically and the other two bodies trailing behind – AQA at 23% and OCR at 20%. Edexcel’s ResultsPlus Direct enables registered candidates to see how close their marks are to various grade boundaries.

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