The latest thoughts, insight and ideas from both the AQi and a range of other sources. Get in touch if you have a viewpoint or research you think we should include.
Extended Project Qualifications: What do the statistics say about student growth?
A former student from Nottingham College won top prize in AQA’s Project Excellence Awards 2023/24 for her Extended Project Qualification on Queerness and Vampirism. Jessica Burton is now embarking on the next stage of her education journey on Cambridge University’s Foundation Year in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, thanks in part to the UCAS points earned through her EPQ. With that in mind, it seems the ideal moment for AQi to explore what the statistics say about how completing an EPQ can improve progression to Higher Education, degree course outcomes and social mobility.Read More
Digital exams: A chance to make assessment more accessible for all
A recent symposium on inclusive educational assessment at Hughes Hall, Cambridge, attracted experts from across the country. AQA lead researcher Dr Katy Finch was in the audience listening to leading academics from the fields of social exclusion, autism, dyslexia and neurodiversity. In this blog, Dr Finch draws on ideas discussed that day to deliberate on the opportunities digitising assessment offers those facing barriers in mainstream education and asks: Can we use Digital Exams as a chance to make assessment more inclusive for everyone?Read More
The Baker Reforms: What is their legacy 35 years on?
In 1988, Lord Baker created arguably the most important piece of education legislation since the war. The impact of the Education Reform Act is almost undeniably greater than anything that has come since. Its significance was immediately apparent but, if anything, it may be even more significant now. AQi investigates the legacy of the Baker education reforms 35 years on.Read More
Post exam analysis: How to improve student experience
Every year, once exam season ends, AQA experts look at student scripts to assess how well the exam papers were constructed. AQA’s 2023 Maths GCSE performed particularly well, even though grading returned to 2019 standards and the Advance Information used in 2022 was not there. Andrew Taylor, head of maths curriculum and Shaun Procter-Green, maths assessment lead, tell how their work redesigning the papers paid off, allowing students to better show off their skills.Read More
Let’s make it happen: The case for digital exams
AQA has published a new report outlining why now is the right time to start moving towards digital exams in some subjects. Making It Click: The case for digital examinations in England argues that far from being a revolutionary move, moving some exams off paper and onto the computer screen is the latest evolution in education in the same way that fountain pens replaced quills and scrolls morphed into printed books. In this blog, Adam Steedman-Thake, AQA’s Policy and Evidence Manager, gives the highlights of his report. He outlines the research that informed AQAs position and shows the benefits of digitally examining some subjects for learners, teachers and the education sector as a whole.Read More
Greater Manchester’s MBacc: What digital skills education could look like
Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, wants Greater Manchester’s digital sector to become ‘world-class’ employing 95,000 people by 2026. Creating a Greater Manchester Baccalaureate (MBacc) to guide technical education locally is central to his plans for developing highly-skilled, workplace-ready young people. But what skills will students need if they are to succeed in the digital era and how can schools teach them? John Sibbald, one of the mayor’s advisors in his MBacc planning group, thinks it is time to switch focus from teaching ‘digital skills’ to developing students ‘digital agency’ instead.Read More
On-line and on-demand: The future for assessing Numeracy, Literacy and Digital Fluency?
Numeracy, Literacy and Digital Fluency are the skills that will ensure young people are prepared for the wider world when they leave education. AQA has published a new report proposing a new assessment, similar to a driving test, for all students including those who struggle in the current system. Author of “A, B, C, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3” Towards new assessments for Numeracy, Literacy and Digital Fluency, Adam Steedman Thake, AQA’s Policy and Evidence Manager, highlights key points from his report that illuminate the problem and signpost a much-needed solution.Read More
Citizenship Studies: Inspiring civic responsibility
In a recent episode of Alistair Campbell and Rory Stewart’s popular podcast, ‘The Rest is Politics’, the pair discussed political education in school. Both spoke of their surprise at the lack of knowledge about government and the political process in students they had met and agreed the subject should be taught from an early age. But did they know that teachers already have a ready-made tool to do just that? Keen podcast listener and AQA’s Head of Curriculum for Citizenship Studies, Matt Narain, fills in the blanks to reveal how young people are being educated about the political sphere.Read More
Strictly Come Dancing and assessment or: How I learned to stop worrying and love Craig Revel Horwood
You may see Strictly Come Dancing is a bit of TV glitz and glamour that enlivens Saturday nights for millions. Or, if you were so inclined, you may view the perennial favourite as a weekly two-part dance exam based on expert judgement and a populist vote. In this blog, originally published in October 2015, assessment expert Kate Kelly explains what she loves about the show and why the ‘Mr Nasty’ judge Craig Revel Horwood is crucial to its fairness.Read More
Why does Religious Studies survive while secularism grows?
At a time when church attendances are declining and secularism is growing, it is intriguing that students are gravitating to Religious Studies in greater numbers. Are young people searching for answers in an uncertain world? Or, are they seeing a wider value in sitting GCSE Religious Studies? Former teacher, Matt Narain, AQA’s head of curriculum for the subject, offers some explanations but warns against complacency if it is to maintain its popularity.Read More
What lies behind the astonishing rise in Computing ?
Among this year’s slew of A-level and GCSE statistics, one subject stood out for the rising number of students choosing to take it. Computing – an umbrella for a number of subjects such as Software Engineering, AI, Computer Science and Computer Games and Animation - is the fastest growing subject at GSCE and second fastest at A-level. And this is happening despite it appearing to be suffering with a shortage of specialist teachers. So the question has to be: Why is Computing attracting so much attention from the students? Steve Kenny, AQA’s head of curriculum for Computer Science, looks at what lies behind the astonishing rise of Computing.Read More
The attainment Gender Gap: What role do O levels, GCSEs and Teacher Assessed Grades play?
Girls’ superior performance at GCSE level has long been known. Indeed, the gender gap for those achieving the highest grades has grown steadily since the 1980s. It peaked in 2021 under pandemic-enforced Teacher Assessed Grades, but fell with the return of exams. So what do the gender gap statistics tell us about the different ways in which boys and girls learn in class, perform in assessments and are perceived by teachers? In this blog we look at factors that lie behind the issue and try to find an answer.Read More
A level results: Don’t forget cohort size matters
The sight of thousands of 6th Formers nervously opening their A Level results invariably provokes nostalgia in older generations which emerges in two well-worn phrases: ‘I did terribly in my A-levels and I did all right’ and ‘Everyone gets A’s these days.’ But do these inter-generational comparisons really hold up? AQA's Adam Steedman Thake digs into the stats to find out.Read More
Art and Design
Creativity, Vocational skills and Progress 8
Sir Keir Starmer announced an ambition to fuse ‘knowledge and skills’ within the education system. To cement that aim, taking a creative or vocational qualification at 16 will be compulsory under a Labour government. They will then become part of existing KS4 accountability measures. Adam Steedman Thake, AQA’s Policy and Evidence Manager, asks how feasible the plan is and looks at the best way of making it happen.Read More
Music and attainment: What do we know?
When Sir Keir Starmer said playing music not only brings joy but also “teaches the skills and creativity essential to future learning and work,” it prompted debate. Some begged to differ with the idea that it brought wider transferable skills. So, do young musicians really pick up skills non-musicians don’t? Or are they already high achievers from more supported backgrounds with greater chances of learning them anyway? Adam Steedman Thake, a practising drummer and AQA’s Policy and Evidence Manager, investigates.Read More
The Role of the Teacher
Labour’s oracy plans: They need clear goals
Sir Keir Starmer announced he wanted to boost students’ confidence by raising the importance of speaking skills – oracy. In an article first published in Schools Week, Reza Schwitzer, AQA’s head of external affairs, applauds the ambition but warns there needs to be clear goals.Read More
Knowledge and skills are most powerful in combination
A Labour government would aim to break down the divide between academic and vocational education. But what would that mean for students and schools? At the end of last year AQA took a major step into vocational qualifications through the acquisition of Training Qualifications UK (TQUK). AQA’s head of external affairs, Reza Schwitzer, and TQUK’s Chief Regulatory Officer, Katie Orr, share their thoughts.Read More
Festival of Education 2023: What we learned
The 13th Festival of Education last week was a wonder. Two days listening to and conversing with educational experts left me with a head full of new ideas. This blog is too brief to do the event justice, but here are ten things I learned from my time wandering around the classrooms and marquees at Wellington College.Read More
Automated Marking: What do driverless cars and auto-markers have in common?
Rapid developments in artificial intelligence are fuelling huge leaps forward in Large Language Models that underpin chatbots. Popular natural language processing tools such as ChatGPT4 are now so sophisticated they are beginning to be used in the exam marking world. Just like driverless cars they’re not infallible so are not used in England and will not replace humans any time soon. So where are we with Automated Marking? AQA researcher and AI expert Dr David West gives an overview of the technology, its pros and cons, how it is currently used and where it might go next.Read More
Extended Project Qualifications: The spark to ignite a love of lifelong learning?
If a student can learn how to learn, or more accurately how they best learn, they will outperform those who haven’t. This crucial ability to understand and regulate one’s own thinking processes - known as metacognition – will also set them up for future academic success. Plenty of educators know the value of metacognition and devise classroom routines to help students cultivate it. If done well, this can provide the foundations for effective lifelong learning. Perhaps the best tool for the job is ready made and at their disposal already. AQi looks at the Extended Project Qualification as an avenue for instilling metacognition and a love of learning.Read More
Estonia: A small country with big results
Asked to name any of the top performing education systems in the world, Estonia is unlikely to be one of the first to spring to mind. But the unassuming Baltic country is drawing attention from educationalists around the globe for the way it is punching well above its weight. It is the top European country in the PISA rankings. Only China and Singapore rank higher. And, it was achieved on a budget smaller than the OECD average. How did the former Soviet state accomplish such a feat? AQi looks at the role digitisation plays in Estonia’s enviable education system.Read More
Artificial Intelligence: assessing performance claims
If the brains behind Artificial Intelligence claim their creations can perform in tests like humans then surely those results should be assessed as if they were produced by humans. AQA's Head of Research and Development, Dr Cesare Aloisi, says this is vital to maintain trust in AI but fears that is not what is happeningRead More
Careers Advice: Plugging the leaks
Try watering a garden with a leaky hose and you’ll only get a dribble from the nozzle. The same is true of our education system. We can build up pressure by raising standards, investing in teaching, and other worthwhile interventions, but any ‘leaks’ on the way mean we’ll find children who don’t achieve the success they deserve. AQi looks at under-representation of key groups in school subject choices, and the role careers advice plays in addressing it.Read More
Safeguarding children and assessment marking
Safeguarding children is often seen as the responsibility of those in direct contact with them such as teachers. That is true – for example, they can spot warning signs in a student’s appearance, behaviour or speech. But there are other ways of picking up clues that a young person is at risk without even meeting them. AQA’s Safeguarding Lead, Becki Hinchliffe reveals how the exam body plays its part in looking after the welfare of students.Read More
Comparative Judgement: The pros and cons
Psychometrics pioneer Louis Thurstone first introduced the idea of Comparative Judgement in 1927. His pitch was that while people would be unlikely to correctly guess someone else’s height, they would be able to say with almost 100 percent accuracy whether a person was taller or shorter than another. It meant you could rank a group of people by height without having to compare every subject with every other one. This concept of an alternative marking system is almost a century old and has vocal supporters in the education world, so why is it still not more widely used? AQA’s policy team sheds some light on the topic.Read More
Grade Boundaries: Getting back to ‘normal’ after the pandemic
2023’s exam series will be the first ‘normal’ set for three years because of effects of the lockdown. Confidence in certification standards is based on having last year’s grades help determine this year’s. But what if you do not have that recent frame of reference. Here, in the first of a series of blogs from those involved in sitting, setting and assessing the exams, AQA’s Standards and Awarding Manager Elizabeth Pope reveals how her unit’s work got back to ‘normal’.Read More
Numeracy, data and democracy
When Rishi Sunak set out his plan for a better future for Britain in January, he placed the need to “reimagine” numeracy at the heart of it. At the time, AQi published a blog by Adam Steedman-Thake looking at the difference between maths and numeracy. Now, AQA’s Research and Development Manager, Dr Claire Tupling, offers her vision of numeracy as a vital life skill, essential for participation in a modern ‘datafied’ democracy.Read More
Decoding EAL: What does English as an Additional Language really mean?
More than 1.5million students are classed as having English as an Additional Language. While they all fall into that one category they are definitely not all one group when it comes to linguistic and academic ability. AQA Lead Researcher Dr Katy Finch shares her insights on how understanding what the label means can allow those students to thrive.Read More
If exams stay, don’t fear ChatGPT
The has been much conversation about how the advent of ChatGPT and other AI tools will affect high stakes exams. AQA's Head of External Affairs Reza Schwitzer argues that there is nothing to fear from modern technology as long as we remember to hold onto some traditional tools as wellRead More
New study links social isolation to reduced academic success – could continuous assessment break the negative cycle?
Recently published Norwegian research discovered a vicious cycle between increased social withdrawal and lowered academic success – but only in boys. AQA’s Policy and Evidence Manager Adam Steedman Thake looks at the findings and considers what role continuous low stakes assessment could play in any solutionRead More
Art and Design
SEND arts barriers can be broken down
Amanda Spielman recently launched an Ofsted review of the Arts and Design curriculum with the warning that some teachers are unnecessarily lowering expectations for pupils with SEND. AQA head of curriculum for creative arts Sandra Allan explains why she agrees and shares insights on helping SEND students find ways to meet the same standards as their classmates.Read More
What comes first – the question or the mark scheme?
With exam season on the horizon, AQi pulls back the curtain to reveal one of the unsung heroes of assessment - the Mark SchemeRead More
Are reading ages old hat?
AQA’s Adam Steedman Thake examines the limitations of traditional reading tests and considers whether now is the time to ditch ‘reading ages’.Read More
Science Practicals: Keep an ion them for the sake of both students and teachers
The pandemic created challenges for teachers and students across all subjects, none more so than the sciences where remote learning and social distancing hindered practical experiments. Clearly student learning was impacted, but how did two years of limited hands-on practice affect teachers, especially trainees and the newly qualified? With AQA's Big Experiment Week kicking off on February 27th, AQA's senior advice manager Kayleigh Moss considers the issue from the other side of the desk.Read More
GCSEs: Working harder for us than you may realise
What do you think a GCSE actually does? AQA’s Adam Steedman Thake looks at the multi-faceted GCSE to show what they offer and what would be lost if they were to goRead More
Extended Project Qualifications: A Success Story
Heather Heathcote, 17, tells AQi how the freedom of studying for an EPQ at John Leggott Sixth Form College allowed a passion for her rescue hens to take flight, impress universities and pick up top prize at the Student Research Project Awards -a celebration of the diversity and enthusiasm young people brought to their work sponsored by the Association of Colleges supported by AQA.Read More
Heather Heathcote’s winning Extended Project Qualification essay
17-year-old Heather Heathcote took inspiration from the three former battery hens she adopted to produce an award winning essay and take a step up the educational ladder. You can read the results of her research on hen welfare here.Read More
Singapore: Global education pace setter looks for another gear to stay relevant in a challenging world
Singapore is already right near the top of global education rankings, so where does it go from there? Tim Ewington analyses a speech by the country's education minister setting out how reforming one of the leading educational systems will prepare the country for the futureRead More
A View From Inside AQA’s Student Advisory Group
Alison Chang is a Year 13 student studying biology, chemistry and history at City of London school for girls. She is Student Chair of AQA’s Student Advisory Group, is an active member of the European Youth Parliament and organises events for the UK branch. Here she pulls back the curtain on how the Student Advisory Group’s work influences real change in educationRead More
Assessment reform – don’t assume what young people will think
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Schools has announced its inquiry into the need, or not, for assessment reform. AQA's Policy and Evidence Manager Adam Steedman Thake offers his insight to MPs and Peers in the group and says the answer will be found back in the classroom.Read More
GCSE Maths and Numeracy: They don’t equal the same
Rishi Sunak's announcement that young people will be expected to study some form of maths until 18 sparked a huge debate. Adam Steedman Thake wonders what we are really speaking about when we get into the debate about mathsRead More
Adaptive testing – tailoring the future of assessments?
Bespoke tests could pave the way to fairer and more flexible assessments, but what are the hurdles and limitations?Read More
Test Anxiety Does Not Predict Exam Performance, New Research Shows
New research explored test anxiety and exam performance, finding that anxiety does not predict performance, once knowledge is controlled for. AQi digs into the detail.Read More
What’s it worth? GCSEs and future of testing
Prof Mary Richardson, UCL IOE, explores what GCSEs mean for test takers and the public and looks to the future of assessment.Read More
What do current students think about their GCSEs?
New research at the University of Manchester seeks to put young people centre stage in education research and policy discussion. Aletia Daly explains her research and shares early findings.Read More
The Decline of English Language A-level
What has caused the huge drop in students taking English Language?Read More
Simulation Assessment: A future tool for today?
New research explores how on-screen assessment can help measure students’ knowledge of abstract concepts.Read More
New research sheds light on what the future holds for skills
New research from LSE predicts softer skills will be in demand in future. AQi considers the implications for the future of assessment.Read More
Making assessment accessible for all
Deep dives into the evidence have revealed new insights for making assessment truly accessible for all learners.Read More
Summer 2022 exam series: Reflections from a Headteacher
After unprecedented disruption to their learning, headteacher Neil Renton reflects on what the Summer exam series means for students, and how we must continue to support young people.Read More
Online Exams – The Robots Are Coming!
Laura McInerney explores the reasons why we should welcome onscreen exams on the horizon.Read More
What do senior leaders think about on-screen assessment?
With the publication of a new report exploring attitudes to on-screen assessment, Tim Ewington takes a closer look at what senior leaders in schools and centres think about on-screen assessment.Read More
Is it time to stop talking about the ‘Forgotten Third’?
Catherine Sezen, Association of Colleges, explores whether we should stop discussing the ‘forgotten third' of students.Read More
Turning the spotlight on education’s forgotten pupils
Lee Elliot Major investigates how the education system can support students that attain a grade 3 and below in their GCSE maths and English.Read More
The Birth of GCSEs: Four decades on, what were the reasons for GCSEs?
With the exam season nearing its end, Andrew Taylor, AQA’s Head of Mathematics, outlines the reasons why GCSEs were created.Read More
Making the grades – How does an exam turn into a qualification?
AQi considers how exam boards make sure that grades reflect the hard work and effort put in by students.Read More
What was education like when the Queen ascended to the throne in 1952?
For Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, AQA looks back on what education and exams were like in 1952.Read More
Journey of a script – What happens after students put their pens down?
What happens after an exam is finished? AQi explains how they are turned into grades, in a matter of weeks.Read More
Making up an exam: How does a question paper get made?
With this year’s exam season kicking off, AQi explores the processes that help create the final exam papers that end up on students’ desks.Read More
A National Baccalaureate for England?
AQi looks at the National Baccalaureate Trust's recent proposals for introducing a national baccalaureate in England.Read More
A post-16 perspective on the EBacc
Eddie Playfair, Association of Colleges, provides a personal view of the education system, informed by decades of teaching and advising post-16 students.Read More
What do teachers think of the EBacc?
Digging deeper into the views of secondary school teachers.Read More
Careers advice: Why is it important and how to improve it?
AQi looks at a recent report on careers advice in England and explores the challenges and opportunities for helping students find their right track.Read More
The role of assessment in meritocracy
A recent book on meritocracy highlights how it has always gone hand in hand with fair assessment.Read More
Getting in and getting on: Encouraging students to aim high and succeed
Susie Whigham, CEO of The Brilliant Club, writes about supporting students to develop the skills and confidence to progress to university and succeed when they are there – crucial factors for social mobility.Read More
A New Era? NEU comments on the Independent Assessment Commission
The Independent Assessment Commission published its final report recently. Andy Case from the NEU explains their findings.Read More
High speed internet in all schools? A key ingredient for on-screen assessment
The government has announced that every school in England will have access to high speed internet. What does this mean for on-screen assessment?Read More
Open-book exams: what does the evidence say?
Amid debate around the merits of open-book exams, AQi examines some of the evidence.Read More
The skills agenda: signs of what’s ahead
The progress of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill through Parliament is yielding lively debate on the future of skills policy.Read More
Can digital technology transform assessment practices?
The transformative power of digital technology in formative assessmentRead More
Time to rethink the use of tiering in GCSEs?
What do students feel about being split into tiers for their GCSEs? Dr Rhian Barrance summarises her recent research.Read More
Economics: Where are all the girls?
What can we do about the gender imbalance in Economics?Read More
Who is responsible for Digital Literacy?
With the rise of digital and on-screen assessment, how can students be prepared?Read More
Levelling Up qualifications and assessment
What does the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper mean for qualifications and assessment?Read More
How can History be made more diverse?
With growing scrutiny of history curricula, how can we make sure History doesn’t reinforce outdated views?Read More
How Hard is it to Learn Soft Skills?
Everyone agrees that soft skills are important, but what is the best way to assess them?Read More
Levelling Up the EBacc
A panel debate on the EBacc organised by AQi, the assessment and qualifications insight hubRead More
The SAT Goes Digital – A Sign of Things to Come?
One of the most famous exams in the world is going digital.Read More
Digital assessment: why we’re closer than we think
With continued technological development, it’s time to explore the potential of digital assessment in earnest.Read More
Accessing the curriculum at home
What lessons are there from Covid-19 that could benefit home education in future?Read More
What role is there for students in assessment and curriculum debate?
Should students and young people be involved in education debates? What value can they bring?Read More
Which students take degrees they’re overqualified for?
Could some students be at a more selective university or on a more financially rewarding degree? Stuart Campbell and Gill Wyness, UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, explore.Read More
The 1963 Newsom Report – Looking back on 60 years, but also to the future
The lessons of education policy past for the present dayRead More
Learning Loss: What is the evidence for extending the School Day?
Amid debate about extending the school day to address Covid disruption, AQi looks at the evidenceRead More
Four key ingredients for a high-quality assessment
The top things to consider when writing assessmentsRead More
Qualifications and Assessments 2021 – Year in Review
After a second summer of exam cancellations, AQi speaks with education leaders to review the yearRead More
The complex case of Post-Qualification Admissions
Is technology the key to unlocking ‘post qualification’ reform to university admissions?Read More
How to ensure diversity in English Literature?
How can we achieve a truly diverse curriculum for English Literature?Read More
Should students sit fewer GCSEs?
Amid debate about the 'right' number of GCSEs, AQi explores the pros and cons of sitting fewer GCSEsRead More
Young Peoples’ Mental Health: Seven Key Facts
Evaluating the link between mental health, Covid-19 and KS4 assessmentRead More
Four Key Facts for the new Social Mobility Commission
After two years of disruption to examinations, what does the new Social Mobility Commission need to know about qualifications?Read More
What does levelling up mean for qualifications?
Jonathan Simons of Public First provides his view on the role of qualifications in the Government’s Levelling Up agendaRead More
How do schools feel about digitising examinations?
Four school leaders give us their viewsRead More
Accessible for All: How to make assessments fair?
Ruth Johnson, Senior Head of Assessment, examines the challenges in designing fair assessments and how we ensure the stories that assessments provide are the right onesRead More
Digital Assessment Now: A case study
In one part of the UK, digital assessment of the core curriculum is a realityRead More
Time to top-up? Rethinking Maths and English after 16
When young people with reformed GCSEs in Maths and English enter the labour market, how much will they remember?Read More
The Power of Public Education Data
Why Massachusetts makes its education data open to allRead More
The theme to which all parties are finally turning their attention
Thoughts from Colin Hughes, AQA CEO, following the party conferencesRead More
Why teacher assessment needs to be carefully assessed
Tom Richmond of EDSK compares notes with the primary sectorRead More
Finland: Going against the global trend
The country's success in zigging while others zag poses tough questionsRead More
Could comparative judgement replace traditional exam marking?
There are rumblings of a revolutionRead More
Qualification reform in England since 1950
A blast through the past of assessmentScroll the Timeline
Singapore: probably the best organised education system in the world
The city state takes a new directionRead More
Talking to students about T-Levels
What will it take to give T-Levels momentum?Read More