The qualifications system regulated by QCA is sophisticated and complex, covering curriculum, accreditation of courses and examination of students. Much is expected of it – perhaps too much – so it often operates under extreme pressure of tight timelines and intense scrutiny.
QCA has a clear sense of its prime purpose, and this gives a sharp focus to its work. Its Annual Operating Plan for 2004-05 states:
The mission of the organisation is thus to ensure, for all learners, fairness, access and equity, in relation to curriculum, qualifications and assessment.
Our remit is to focus on only one small, but important, part of the system and QCA’s regulatory role within it. That is on ‘examination standards’ and we have chosen to focus specifically on GCE A levels.
In this report, we have described in some detail the examinations procedures operated in England under the regulatory authority of QCA but we note again that similar structures operate in Wales and Northern Ireland. We did this to make clear the care with which the entire examination enterprise is conducted. We have also described in some detail the way in which QCA exercises its regulatory role in respect of examinations to make clear the way in which it interacts with the awarding bodies. We have, in addition, given some illustrative examples of changes in procedures that have flowed from QCA’s quality assurance and control procedures.