'I fear Caravaggio would be disruptive': Jo Saxton shares her dream NYE guest list, and reflects on her first months as Ofqual chief

2020 may have been a year like no other, but 2021 was a chip off the old block and relentless from day one. The exams regulator tells us about 12 more months of dealing with Covid while pushing ahead with new challenges
Ofqual chief regulator Jo Saxton. Photo: Ofqual

By Civil Service World

24 Dec 2021


What was your highlight of 2021?

I have been Ofqual chief regulator since September. So far, the highlight for me has been getting out into the field, meeting those who are working towards qualifications and whom our regulation exists to protect. 

Meeting parents at Venturers’ Academy in Bristol was particularly enlightening and inspiring – parents are often the least sought out group in policymaking stakeholder engagement. I’ve committed to working harder at listening to parents in Ofqual’s work going forward. 

It has also been brilliant to announce a new era of co-regulation. Changes in practice that we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic have actually enabled this. By co-regulation, I mean encouraging qualification and assessment-awarding organisations to discuss challenges and solutions, not only with Ofqual, as the regulator, but with each other. 

At Ofqual, we can create the environment for awarding organisations to innovate and evolve, where it is appropriate to do so, so that those we serve can be even better qualified and empowered for the next stages of their education and life. We saw this with functional skills qualifications where we each played our part to make sure students who couldn’t access assessments were able to get a result and to progress. Such an approach doesn’t preclude us from taking regulatory action where non-compliance occurs, but it should support better buy-in to the requirements of the regulatory framework. And that is good for everyone.

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?

Delivering clarity to students and apprentices about exam grading, as well as about contingencies, was the biggest challenge for me – with the sector and all stakeholders asking for certainty prior to my starting. 

"A reshuffle during my first week increased what was already going to be a difficult series of agreements and policies"

A reshuffle during my first week increased what was already going to be a difficult series of agreements and policies. Officials at the Department for Education were brilliant at ensuring that successive meetings with the new secretary of state and junior minister were fitted in. 

What is your number one priority for 2022?

To be guided by the interests of students of all ages and apprentices. Ofqual regulates exams and I will not forget that, as long as I work here, our priority will be the interests of those who sit public exams and assessments. 

In the new year, I will be starting on a listening tour to more schools and colleges in every region of England. I particularly want to visit areas where we can see from results and attendance figures that Covid has had the greatest impact. My aim is to get around a table with local school and college leaders, students and parents. My priority is to visit schools and colleges that serve at least the national average in the cohort of disadvantaged students.

My own qualifications have allowed me to study and work around the world, and I want that same opportunity for everyone – but especially for those who have the toughest backgrounds. Those students are my compass. 
Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?

In my former career as an academic I was immersed in the 17th century. I’d love to have a dinner party with giants of that age, particularly Descartes and Rembrandt. 

Much as I love Caravaggio, I fear he’d be disruptive. 


Education Leadership
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