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BHA welcomes Ofqual and OCR’s u-turn in policy of opposition to blacking out exam questions

Take action! Write to your MP now to express concern about the censoring of exam questions by state schools

Update 13:40: In the hour since we published this news item, Ofqual has also published a statement saying that it will no longer allow redaction of exam papers. We have updated our news item below to reflect this.

News item: The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the exam regulator Ofqual and leading exam board Oxford, Cambridge and RSA’s ( OCR) decision that schools should not be permitted to redact exam questions. The new policy represents a reversal for both organisations, after they initially consented to Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, a state funded Charedi school in Hackney, having censored a question on evolution for religious reasons.

Ofqual has written to exam boards to say:

Centres should not redact questions or prevent students from accessing any part of an assessment. Doing so prevents candidates from having access to the full range of marks available. It also undermines the validity of the assessment.

Our regulatory rules require each awarding organisation to ensure that the content of its assessments is fit for purpose, appropriate for the method of assessment chosen, and consistent with the specification for the qualification. If questions are redacted from a paper it becomes incomplete and is unlikely to be fit for purpose.

We also require each awarding organisation to ensure that its qualifications comply with particular requirements, for example criteria for a GCSE subject; where a question is redacted the assessment would no longer be compliant. We also have regulatory requirements covering each awarding organisation’s relationships with centres. Each awarding organisation must ensure its arrangements with centres enable it to comply with the conditions.

In light of this, we are clarifying that awarding organisations are required by the conditions to take steps to prevent redaction of exam questions. Should centres redact questions we will expect you to treat this as malpractice. Where any such malpractice is suspected or alleged, and where there are reasonable grounds for that suspicion or allegation, the awarding organisation must investigate and, if appropriate, impose sanctions in accordance with Condition A8. As you know, such sanctions can include prohibiting a teacher’s future involvement in exams, withholding a centre’s results, and refusing to provide future exams through a centre. If you find a centre has redacted any questions in an exam or assessment you should inform us using the usual event notification channel (eventnotification@ofqual.gov.uk). You should also notify other bodies that have an interest in the centre.

Agreements that allow redaction, in any form, to take place must not be made between awarding organisations and centres. Any agreements that are currently in place should be withdrawn before any further assessments are taken.

Meanwhile, OCR has said:

OCR is today setting out its long-term approach to schools that redact exam questions.

Last summer we discovered that two schools had redacted questions before the students sat the exams. We immediately launched malpractice investigations and brought the issue to the attention of the Regulator, Ofqual.

We also alerted Ofsted and the Department for Education as we felt that it raised more general concerns that extended beyond matters of assessment, to the delivery of the National Curriculum and student entitlement. We also raised the issue with our fellow Awarding Bodies.

We have now been able to consider our position and have concluded that as a matter of policy schools should not be permitted to tamper with question papers prior to a student sitting an exam (in cases where changes are required to facilitate disabled candidate access, adjustments are made by the Awarding Body).

OCR believes that this approach should be adopted by all Awarding Bodies and supported by the Regulator.  We told Ofqual that this is the approach we would be taking and wanted clarity from its Board as to whether it would be supporting this policy. We are pleased that the Regulator has said that it agrees with us that such a practice should not be permitted.

On Friday the BHA discovered that Yesodey Hatorah has been censoring questions for years, and believes it is commonplace for Charedi schools to do so. The school teaches creationism to every year group and does not teach sex education at all. Thousands of people have written to their MPs expressing concern about the situation. The BHA recently met the DfE and Ofqual to discuss the situation, and has been assisting Ofqual with their now-concluded investigation.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We welcome Ofqual and OCR’s decision that schools will not be permitted to censor exam questions. Every child has a human right to scientific knowledge and evolution is fundamental to understanding how life came to be. This change of policy represents a victory of common sense over ignorance, and we will continue to work with the Government and Ofqual to ensure that no pupil is denied such vital information.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 078155 89 636.

Read Ofqual’s statement: http://ofqual.gov.uk/news/ofqual-statement-redaction-exam-papers/

Read Ofqual’s letter: http://ofqual.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/2014-03-31-RO19-redaction-of-assessment-materials.pdf

Read OCR’s statement: http://www.ocr.org.uk/news/view/ocr-policy-on-redaction-of-questions-in-exam-papers/

The BHA is encouraging its supporters to write to their MPs about this matter: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/what-you-can-do-to-help/write-mp-censored-exam-questions-creationist-nurseries-zoo/

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that ‘States Parties shall [contribute] to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and [facilitate] access to scientific and technical knowledge’.

Read the previous BHA story, ‘Yesodey Hatorah says censoring exam questions “has successfully been in place within the Charedi schools throughout England for many years”’: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/03/28/yesodey-hatorah-says-censoring-exam-questions-successfully-place-within-charedi-schools-throughout-england-many-years/

Read the previous BHA story, ‘Ofqual and exam boards collude with “faith” schools to censor questions on evolution’: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/03/02/ofqual-exam-boards-collude-faith-schools-censor-questions-evolution/

Read the previous BHA story, ‘BHA expresses alarm as two state schools challenge teaching of evolution’: https://humanism.org.uk/2013/10/10/bha-expresses-alarm-two-state-schools-challenge-teaching-evolution/

Read the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ statement, coordinated by the BHA, from 30 scientists including Sir David Attenborough, Professor Richard Dawkins, Sir Paul Nurse and Professor Michael Reiss, the Association for Science Education, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Ekklesia at http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on countering creationism: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/countering-creationism

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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