UK Heads Towards The End Of 'Paper-And-Pencil' Exams

The body responsible for organizing exams across the Channel is starting the digital shift with the experimentation of online tests. Some teachers denounced a “desperately archaic” system.

How the UK school system

SECONDARY SCHOOL – The equivalent of secondary school in France, and which leads up to A-Levels Year 12 (16 years old) - AS-Level exam Year 13 (17 years old)

What is the equivalent of the 3rd in England?

British UK
Year 7 pupil /class Pupil in Year 7
5thYear 8 pupil /class Pupil in Year 8
4thYear 9 pupil /class Pupil in Year 9
Year 10 pupil /class Pupil in Year 10

The UK may soon abandon paper-based exams. PHOTO SINA SCHULDT / DPA PICTURE-ALLIANCE VIA AFP

“You can put down your pens, the exams will no longer be done on paper” , announces the daily newspaper The Times . In the United Kingdom, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations (Ofqual), the main assessment and regulatory body, published a three-year plan on Wednesday May 4 in which it explains that it wants to “look at new approaches to student assessments. , with in particular the use of new technologies” .

The country's largest exam board, AQA, is to launch a series of online exam experiments for GCSE and A-Level , the UK equivalents of the Brevet des Colleges and Baccalaureate. The organization encourages the education sector to take the plunge, citing the difficulty of organizing the printing, delivery, collection and correction of the 12 million copies each year.

This shift would have particular advantages for the adaptation of the exam schedule, for example according to the options chosen by the pupils. It could put an end to the great ritual of homework on the table taking place at the same time for millions of students across the country at the end of the school year. AQA also strikes the ecological cord, the paper copies inducing CO 2 emissions and quantity of plastic waste.

A broader reform?

According to The Times , many headteachers are welcoming the project, describing a “hopelessly archaic” table-top exam system. “The reliance we have on an industrial-scale, paper-and-pencil examination system with Fort Knox-esque security features for transporting and storing documents is completely outdated, and it is high time for reforms in this area” , according to the general secretary of the Association of Schools and Principals (ASCL).

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While Covid-19 has caused the cancellation of exams for two consecutive years, GCSE and A-Level are to be held this month. According to testimonies collected by the title, education in the United Kingdom was not prepared for such an upheaval. This first step towards digital could lead to a broader reform of assessment, called for by part of the teaching body. “Obviously what prevents us from having representative and valid marks at GCSE and A-Level today is the fact that it is considered that all assessment […] must lead to an examination, except for derogation” , explains the head of a teachers' union.

“Yet there are already many concrete examples in England of qualifying courses which are not limited by this assumption and which manage to obtain valid and completely correct results using a variety of assessment methods.”