Exam board to offer pupils on-screen English GCSEs by next summer

4 January 2024, 00:04

Students in exam hall
Pupils offered digital English GCSEs. Picture: PA

Up to 125,000 UK students will have the option to take Edexcel’s GCSE English language and English literature exams on-screen for the first time.

An exam board is offering pupils the chance to be assessed digitally in their GCSE English exams from next year.

Pearson, which runs exam board Edexcel, is aiming for GCSE students to be able to sit on-screen exams in the core subject by summer 2025, if they choose to do so.

Up to 125,000 students in the UK will have the option to take Edexcel’s GCSE English language and English literature exams on-screen for the first time.

The exam board’s on-screen GCSEs in English – which would be assessed in summer next year – are subject to regulatory approval by Ofqual.

Pearson Edexcel hopes to be able to offer an on-screen option for all GCSEs by 2030 to increase accessibility for students, as well as other benefits.

The exam board said it has seen more students using word processing for their responses to GCSE exam questions, as part of access arrangements.

Sharon Hague, managing director for Pearson Schools, said: “This is a pivotal moment for on-screen assessment in the UK. For the first time, in summer 2025, students will be able to sit an exam in a core subject fully on-screen if they choose to do so.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from students and teachers that they want a choice in how they take exams. That is why we’ll offer both on-screen and paper-based exam options.”

Students who take Pearson Edexcel’s GCSE in computer science are already assessed partially on-screen and the exam board has begun rolling out digital assessments for its international GCSEs.

This will be the first time that the main English GCSEs will be offered on-screen.

Ms Hague added: “On-screen is a better experience for students who need accessibility adjustments. Students can zoom in to increase font size and choose colour filters on-screen during exams, something their schools or college would otherwise need to request in advance of their exams.

“On-screen brings benefits for all students too. They can highlight and annotate information, cut and paste text and make easy edits to their answers. It’s what many students are used to doing when they work at home and in the classroom, and it’s undoubtedly how they will work in their careers too.”

Schools will still have the option to offer paper-based exams, as well as on-screen assessments, under the exam board’s plans.

It comes as a number of the UK’s major exam boards have taken steps towards digital assessment.

Last month, exam board OCR announced it would offer a digitally-assessed GCSE in computer science for pupils starting their course in 2025.

Meanwhile, exam board AQA is aiming to roll out on-screen exams over a period of years and it hopes that students will sit at least one major subject digitally by 2030.

The reading and listening components of GCSE Italian and Polish would be the first to move to digital exams in 2026, according to the proposals by AQA.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “It is encouraging that exam boards are continuing to explore new forms of digital assessment.

“It’s clear that an examination system that relies purely on pen-and-paper testing is outdated and we know that many students and their teachers will welcome the opportunity to provide typed answers.

“As well as being more accessible for some students, digital exam papers should prove simpler to mark, easier to transport and hopefully less expensive to administer.”

He added: “The move towards online assessment is positive and overdue, but does not come without challenges – including the ongoing disadvantage gap between those who may have more access to technology at home and therefore more familiarity with its demands.

“It’s vital that schools are clearly guided through this process and have the necessary resources to put in place the digital infrastructure they need to deliver online exams going forward.”

Steve Rollett, deputy chief executive at the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), said “On-screen assessment appears to have the potential to support students, especially those with particular needs, who might struggle to access traditional paper exams.

“We hope this development will support children while retaining the overall integrity of the exam system.”

An Ofqual spokesperson said: “Ofqual is committed to supporting well-evidenced innovation in how examinations are taken. Above all, it is critical that examinations are both accessible and fair to all students taking them.

“We will evaluate in detail Pearson’s proposals when they are submitted for review. Our priority will be making sure their approach is fair to all students, whether they take their GCSE on screen or continue to do so on paper.”

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said: “The Department and Ofqual are taking time to understand the opportunities and implications of digital assessment to inform any decisions about the future of on-screen assessments.

“As the independent regulator of qualifications in England, Ofqual requires that any GCSE or A-level moving on-screen will be subject to regulatory approval.”

By Press Association

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