Government proposes new independent regulator of qualifications and tests in England to take over the regulatory role of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)

In December, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) published a consultation paper, Confidence in standards: regulating and developing qualifications and assessment, outlining the Government's proposals for a new independent regulator of qualifications and tests for children, secondary students and adult learners in England. The new Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulator is expected to take over the regulatory role of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) later this year. 

Regulatory board

Source: Bakhtiar Zein/Shutterstock

Over the past 10 years there has been a substantial increase in the numbers of students gaining academic and vocational qualifications. According to government sources, the percentage of 15-year olds in England achieving five or more A*-C grades at GCSE has increased from ca 45 per cent in 1996/7 to ca 60 per cent in 2006/7. Similar increases were witnessed in the numbers of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and A-levels over the same period, with now more young people than ever before obtaining the qualifications they need to go on to higher education. While many educationalists and politicians agree that these increases reflect high standards and the hard work of students and teachers, there is a growing debate about whether or not standards of UK qualifications and assessment are being adequately protected.  

Over this 10-year period, QCA has been the bastion of the school curriculum, qualifications and assessment in the UK. The report finds that QCA's independent approach to maintaining standards in these areas is recognised internationally for its quality and reliability. However, while the UK can have confidence in its qualifications and assessment regimes, it is critical that standards are seen to be maintained by learners, employers and the public.  

Under the latest Government proposals, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulator will have the power to look at individual qualifications where necessary, and over time will: 

  • recognise organisations that develop and award qualifications in the national framework;  
  • monitor and inspect awarding organisations; and 
  • accredit public qualifications such as GCSEs, A-levels, and Diplomas. 

The regulator will also be responsible for investigating complaints and considering appeals. QCA will evolve as a development agency to advise ministers on the monitoring and development of the curriculum and the delivery of tests and assessment.  

In its response to the consultation the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) welcomed the current proposals but pointed out that the new regulatory system must ensure that learners have confidence that standards are comparable across qualifications at the same level, across different subjects and across awarding bodies. 'There is a plethora of evidence', the RSC states, 'that standards across different subjects at the same level are not comparable'. 

The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulator is expected to be introduced in two phases. An interim regulator is expected to be in place prior to the 2008 summer examination season, followed by legislation to establish the new regulator and the development agency.