The exam regulator in England is to explore the use of online testing as part of plans for major changes over the next three years.

It’s thought the move could be the  first step on the path towards online GCSEs and A-levels.

Ofqual said it will explore the use of online adaptive testing – where digital exams automatically adjust to suit a candidate’s ability level.

The regulator said that over the next three years, it will explore new approaches to assessment, including the use of technology, working with exam boards to “explore the role of adaptive testing”.

Ofqual added that it will “remove regulatory barriers where innovation promotes valid and efficient assessment”.

It plans to oversee the reintroduction of full public exams in 2022, while being “ready to implement contingency arrangements if needed”.

Education leaders ‘delighted’ at new approaches to exams

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the move away from “Fort Knox-style security arrangements” for exams.

“We are delighted that Ofqual is going to look at new approaches to exams, including the use of technology, and that it intends to work with the awarding organisations to this end,” he said.

“Our current reliance on a pen-and-paper exam system, organised at an industrial scale with Fort Knox-style security arrangements around the transportation and storing of papers, is hopelessly outdated and ripe for reform,” he added.

He said the pandemic had revealed how “vulnerable” the assessment system was to unexpected events.

“If online assessment had been available, it might not have been necessary to cancel all summer exams for two years in a row,” he said.

Covid pandemic highlighted reason to look at new ways to carry out exams

Ofqual chair Ian Bauckham said: “The pandemic has, rightly, catalysed questions about not if, but when, and how, greater use of technology and onscreen assessment should be adopted.

“All proposed changes need to be carefully assessed for their impact on students, including those with special educational needs and disabilities.”

Chief regulator Dr Jo Saxton said the plan expressed her “personal commitment that the interests of students and apprentices will be the compass that guides us on every decision and action”.

She added: “They will be our true north. I know the power of qualifications from my own personal experience and from my time working on the frontline of schools in some of the most disadvantaged areas in the country.”