Online GCSE exams: ‘Guarantees required that the tech won’t let down our students’

Regulatory body Qualifications Wales is consulting on the future of GCSE examinations, and its new chairman, David Jones, has suggested that students in Wales could see greater use of electronic assessment in the new curriculum. This could include sitting exams online.

Suzy Davies AM/AC – the Shadow Education Minister – said:

“While I am not necessarily opposed to this suggestion – lives, especially those of younger and school-age people are increasingly ‘online’, and much learning is already done digitally – I would need to see a great deal more detail before endorsing it.”

However, she cautioned that her hesitance is not necessarily about security or steps to prevent cheating, and she continued:

As I understand it, the examinations would still take place within a school setting, not at home or remotely, and a software security system known as ‘sandboxing’ should prevent students being able to access the internet during exams.

“What does concern me is how many students could actually sit an exam at one time. With the exception of ICT classes, no class has one computer per pupil, let alone for an entire year or subject group to be examined simultaneously.

“Also, going digital can present its own problems. Last May, the WJEC exam board had to apologise after what was termed a ‘technical issue’ affected students taking a GCSE computer science exam.

“Examinations are a stressful enough time anyway, but delays to start times – and this reportedly affected students in a number of counties in Wales – could put even the most adept and well-prepared young people off their stride. Guarantees would need to be given that this situation would not happen again.

“And while I am happy to have seen the end of desks with ink wells in them, with this increasing digitisation of life and studying – not to forget working – we could be at risk of witnessing the last generation of students in Wales who can use a pen and paper to write, and writing still has its place amid the raft of forms of communication.

“This suggestion requires more consultation and greater detail before I can give it an A*.