Pupils at up to 100 schools will take English and maths exams online this year as part of a ‘radical’ trial which could see GCSEs and A-levels go digital by 2025.
Between 60 and 100 schools are taking part in the pilot scheme, organised by the examination board AQA, which provides three fifths of all GCSEs and A-levels in England.
The trials will also see pupils take interactive tests, which allow the questions to become harder or easier, depending on how well they are performing in real time, reported The Times.
The ‘significant’ trial, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, comes after two years of severe disruptions due to Covid-19.
Exams were cancelled and replaced with teacher-led assessments, leading to wide-spread grade inflation, with 45 per cent of A-levels graded A* or A last summer.
The trialling of online papers will not lead to actual grades or clash with exams this summer, with the tests taking place between spring and autumn.
Secretary of state for education Nadhim Zahawi said technology ‘can be a force for good in education’
Colin Hughes, the chief executive of AQA, told The Times that if online exams were adopted on a large scale, some written tests would be kept to protect handwriting from dying out among young people (file photo)
However they will be used as a litmus test on the viability of online assessment.
Secretary of state for education Nadhim Zahawi said: ‘After the disruption to exams and qualifications over the past two years my focus now is on the exams that will take place in person this summer, with adaptations in place to maximise fairness.
‘Technology can be a force for good in education, as it can be in all sectors, and I want to keep pushing at those doors to see where we can go further.’
Colin Hughes, the chief executive of AQA, told The Times that if online exams were adopted on a large scale, some written tests would be kept to protect handwriting from dying out among young people.
However he argued that putting the majority of exams online would be cheaper and better for the environment.
AQA, one of three exam boards, handles more than 12 million papers every summer alone, which creates 600 tonnes of CO2.
This does not include emissions from the lorries which deliver them to and from examination halls across the country. The papers also create 30 tonnes of plastic packaging.
The pilots, which will feature straight forward GCSE and A-level questions, will be closely watched by the government and OCR and Edexcel, the other two exam boards – with a view to bringing in online testing as early as 2025.
Sophisticated software which allows for real-time adaptive assessment will also be trialled on younger pupils – with a view to them being introduced at the GCSE level if proved successful.
During an adaptive assessment test, pupils will all start on the same level, but the questions will get harder for those performing better.
It could remove the need for basic and higher papers at GCSE, which block those in the former from achieving top grades, while some of those in the latter can run the risk of failing.
Year 10 students wear face masks as part of new national guidelines at Park Lane Academy in Halifax, northwest England on January 4, 2022
The pilots, which will feature straight forward GCSE and A-level questions, will be closely watched by not only the government but also OCR and Edexcel, the other two exam boards – with a view to bringing in online testing as early as 2025 (file photo)
Mr Hughes told the Times: ‘If you were to design an exam system from scratch, would you start by thinking by far the best idea is to is to print millions of examination papers, staple, wrap in plastic, send them around the country under secure conditions, drive them all to Milton Keynes, chop, scan and digitise them — as opposed to what we’re going to experiment with next year: pupils view the questions on screen, key in their answers, save them and in principle two seconds later they can appear in front of somebody ready to mark. That’s a rather radical shift.’
Of adaptive assessment, Mr Hughes added: ‘It’s not highfalutin technology; it’s available today.
‘The anxiety that people have about it is that pupils will sit different exams from each other.
‘But you work out how to measure one against the other. It has this enormous virtue that pupils can move through their own test in their own way and genuinely demonstrate what they can achieve in the time available.’
In Wales, adaptive assessments are being brought in for seven to 14 year olds, while in Scotland standardised adaptive assessments have already been adopted for pupils ages five, eight, 11 and 14.
Mr Hughes said concerns of students using the internet to cheat will be addressed in the trials, with some schools potentially using a small laptop or smart pad device which is not connected to the internet but runs for the time allotted for the exam.
He said that if online testing was adopted, pupils would begin their GCSE or A-levels knowing they would be taking exams online from the start.
It comes as secondary school pupils are from today being told to wear face masks from the moment they arrive until they leave.
In a desperate effort to protect the education of millions of youngsters amid a sharp rise in cases of the Omicron variant, Ministers requested that pupils cover their faces all day – including while they are being taught.
Students are already asked to wear masks in communal areas.
Source: Daily Mail