Ofqual chief Sally Collier on delivering new qualifications and unexpected sprouts

Written by Civil Service World on 25 December 2019 in Feature
Feature

As 2020 approaches, senior figures from across government reflect on their highlights and challenges of 2019, look ahead to the next 12 months and share their favourite festive memories

Photo: Maximilian Stock, Ltd/Zuma Press/PA

What was your highlight of 2019?

Overseeing the safe delivery and awarding by exam boards of GCSEs, A Levels and vocational qualifications each summer is one of Ofqual’s key aims, and 2019 was another successful year. We have been working through a period of great change, and this summer most students in England took only reformed GCSEs and A levels. We oversaw the safe introduction too of new Functional Skills qualifications in English and maths – important qualifications with around 700,000 certifications each year. We also completed and published a number of significant research projects, including the culmination of a three-year study with the University of Oxford about the impact of modular and linear exams at GCSE, and work into grading standards in GCSE modern foreign languages that has informed important policy decisions. 

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?

We continue to expand our role in technical and vocational qualifications, aiming to regulate them with the same focus and intensity as general qualifications. We are also playing key roles in the development of new T Levels, which will be taught from autumn 2020, and the quality assurance of end-point assessments in apprenticeships. This year we set out plans to focus more on enabling innovation to improve standards and confidence in how qualifications are delivered. I’m particularly excited about the ground-breaking work we have begun to look at the potential role artificial intelligence could play in improving exam marking.

What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?

We will continue working with many organisations, including schools and colleges and social media companies, to reduce the threat to specific qualifications and the wider system from leaks of confidential material and hoax exam papers. We will also need to recruit more assessment experts and vocational qualification specialists to prepare for our growing work in this area. As I write, of course, all public bodies are preparing for the outcomes of the general election, where education and qualifications feature strongly.

Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth...

Christmas is a special time for me and I thoroughly enjoy spending it with my family. My late father also loved Christmas and consequently my childhood memories are of happy family times filled with laughter and occasional oddities. For example, once he replaced some of the traditional wrapped up silver in the Christmas puddings with random items so the children, excited to unearth their coins, actually unearthed…sprouts. My son is delighted that I have not continued this particular tradition.

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