U-Turn on Exam Policy

UNITED KINGDOM -

Schools forced to show students exam questions that conflict with their values

In a shocking change of policy by a public body, the exam qualifications watchdog Ofqual has said that schools will no longer be allowed to screen out exam questions which conflict with halachic or hashkafic standards. In the past, faith schools have redacted papers before distributing the exam papers.

Last year, the examining board investigated the issue of questions being removed from exam papers and found that, since it did not give the pupils an unfair advantage, while they did not support this practice, it was not considered to be unacceptable. During the course of the inquiry, chareidi schools wrote to their parent bodies about this issue and received overwhelming support.

However, the British Humanist Association was made aware of the issue and took up the case with the school via a Freedom of Information request. Upon receiving the school’s responses to their questions, the BHA contacted the Department for Education and Ofqual to discuss the matter with them. As a result of this, Ofqual has now issued a statement formally banning the pre-screening of exam papers, saying it would be regarded as “malpractice” and punished in the same way as if a school were caught cheating. A school can be barred from running exams in those circumstances or have its entire results quashed.

The OCR examining board, one of the largest in the country, has also issued a statement saying that schools would not be allowed to make changes to exam papers. The news comes just weeks before thousands of students across the country are due to begin their GCSE and A level exams.

Mr. Jonathan Rabson, Executive Director of NAJOS, the National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools said, “We are very surprised that there has been no consultation and we are considering our position as this statement has come without any notice. We are disturbed that this has occurred in a country whose system of government is based on religious principles and which is famous the world over for its tolerance of different faiths. Faith schools in the UK regularly top the league tables and are highly valued for their contributions to education and society. It is concerning that in a country like this, the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society are able to dictate educational policy. NAJOS will be seeking advice on this very troubling issue affecting schools in our association.”

Meanwhile the National Secular Society claimed this gross intrusion into parental rights as a “significant victory,” describing the process of educating children within a religious framework as “indoctrination.”