Former Bury headteacher welcomes plans for online exams

Geoff Barton, former headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, was also pleased about

Mr Barton worked at King Edward VI School in Bury for 15 years - Credit: Gregg Brown

A former Bury St Edmunds headteacher has welcomed plans to explore moving GCSE and A-level assessments online after an exam regulator revealed its three-year vision. 

Geoff Barton, who left King Edward VI School in March 2017 after 15 years at the helm of the Bury school, said he was "delighted" that new approaches to exams were being considered. 

Stock education image. Picture: NIALL CARSON

Online testing could spell the end for paper and pen exams - Credit: PA

Ofqual said on Wednesday it will explore new approaches to assessment, including the use of technology, as part of its plans for the next three years. 

The regulator said use of online adaptive testing - where digital exams automatically adjust to suit a candidate's ability level - will be examined. 

Mr Barton, who is now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders,  said the "Fort Knox-style security arrangements" for exams were "ripe for reform". 

"We are delighted that Ofqual is going to look at new approaches to exams, including the use of technology, and that it intends to work with the awarding organisations to this end," he said. 

"Our current reliance on a pen-and-paper exam system, organised at an industrial scale with Fort Knox-style security arrangements around the transportation and storing of papers, is hopelessly outdated and ripe for reform."

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He said the coronavirus pandemic had revealed how "vulnerable" the assessment system was to unexpected events.

"If online assessment had been available, it might not have been necessary to cancel all summer exams for two years in a row," he said. 

Mr Barton said the new online systems would need to be carefully tested to make sure they were reliable, and that headteachers felt that "technology in assessment is only one part of the picture, and that exams themselves need to change".

Geoff Barton. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Former King Edward VI School headteacher Geoff Barton welcomed the move - Credit: Archant

He added there should be "less emphasis on a huge and relentless set of terminal exams".

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, also voiced her support but said the plans did not go far enough. 

"Education, and the proof of what a student has achieved in their time at school and college, is about far more than showing what can be remembered in an end-of-course exam. Grades and assessments should reflect this, otherwise we are doing young people a disservice," she said.

Ian Bauckham, Ofqual chairman, said: "The pandemic has, rightly, catalysed questions about not if, but when, and how, greater use of technology and onscreen assessment should be adopted.

"All proposed changes need to be carefully assessed for their impact on students, including those with special educational needs and disabilities."