Back to Top

Tests worth teaching to: incentivising quality in qualifications and accountability

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.

A .pdf copy of Tests worth teaching to may be downloaded here.

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.

A .pdf copy of Tests worth teaching to may be downloaded here.

James Croft, the Centre's Director, comments on the volume here.

About the authors

Dale Bassett is Head of Public Policy at AQA, the awarding body and education charity. A specialist in education policy, he has written extensively on structural reform of the schools system, as well as on issues related to curricula, qualifications, and teaching.

Robert Coe is Professor in the School of Education and Director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) at Durham University. His research interests include evaluation methodology, evidence-based education policy, and the statistical comparability of examinations in different subjects and over time. Before embarking on an academic career, he was a teacher of mathematics, with experience in a range of secondary schools and colleges.

Gabriel Heller Sahlgren is Director of Research at the Centre for Market Reform of Education and Affiliated Researcher with the Research Institute of Industrial Economics in Stockholm, Sweden. He is the author of Incentivising Excellence: School Choice and Education Quality (CMRE and IEA 2013), among other publications on issues relating to applied microeconomics.

Geoffrey Holden is Senior Policy Advisor at City & Guilds, the leading vocational awarding body. Among his broad interests in education policy, he has a particular interest in 14-19 education and ensuring that there is a high quality vocational offer for all young people.

Tim Oates was Director of Research at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority from 1997 until he joined Cambridge Assessment in 2006 as Group Director of Assessment Research and Development. He recently chaired the expert panel providing advice to the Secretary of State on revisions to the National Curriculum in England. He is also Visiting Professor at the University of Leeds and Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.

J. R. Shackleton is Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham and editor of Economic Affairs. A specialist in labour market economics, he has been a Dean of two business schools and worked as an economist in the Civil Service. He has also been involved with schools examinations for many years.