Let’s support a more inclusive approach to exam provision

There is often an element of mystique and exclusive reverence surrounding exams.  In the UK, candidates must also grapple with the complexity created by having different exam boards.  Perhaps not surprisingly, parents and pupils tend to passively follow the ‘professionals’ and rarely get engaged with the details.  Imagine the administrative headaches it could create, if parents and pupils were to become actively engaged in choosing exam board and module options and even chose the dates when they would sit their exams rather in the way we do with our driving tests.  


Yet any discussion about the exam system and the delivery of exams, needs to be mindful of the fact that the primary aim should be to serve exam candidates and wider society and not mainstream convenience.  Not all exam candidates attend schools for instance; indeed, many do not.   Candidates frequently have needs that require a flexible and a user-friendly approach so established centres can help provide that service and get some additional income to help bridge budget gaps.


At our National Tutors’ Conference in October, we were delighted to listen to Andrew Harland CEO of the IEOA, underline the importance of this and, the emphasis iEOA was placing on delivering an inclusive exam system. We hope that it will be just the start of a collaborative relationship that seeks to build better links between tutors and the examination boards for the benefit of both tutors and students alike, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue that he initiated in his presentation. This is especially pertinent to those tutors working closely with members of the SEND community.


In the tutoring and supplementary education sector, we receive requests from pupils who have a wide variety of needs.  People in their 20’s often decide that they want to go back and study medicine but first they need to take some A level sciences having overlooked the sciences the first-time round.  We are often approached by mature pupils who need to go back and take A level maths in order to gain acceptance on to their desired university course.  So there clearly is a need to ensure that the exam system does not discourage non-school candidates from taking further A levels some years after they have left school.


Often too, it is not practical for schools to provide tuition and educational support for non-mainstream subjects even though significant demand to take exams in these subjects might exist.  Take for example the cultural phenomenon of first generation migrants who are often anxious that their children are losing their ‘mother-tongue’ especially when it comes to writing in their ‘home’ language.  The children might be able to speak conversational Mandarin, Arabic, Greek, Farsi, Russian and so on but their parents are concerned about their children not being able to write in it.


The largest potential constituency for non-school candidates for exams are adult learners.  For a plethora of reasons, some career-driven others more recreational, the demand for adult education is on the rise.  Indeed, it would be a very healthy development if we increasingly saw education as something that spanned one’s entire life rather than something that only occurred in our younger ‘school’ years. Such trends point to a need for an inclusive user-friendly exam system while ensuring the integrity of the system overall.


Tom Maher

Director of British Home Tutors

Former President of The Tutors’ Association

November 17th 2017