GCSEs, AS and A levels are being reformed. These changes could have implications for the products that exam boards offer and, in turn, the uptake from schools and colleges for those products.
The two reports here look at these issues from different perspectives. Frontier Economics, commissioned by Ofqual, considered whether the reforms to GCSE, AS and A levels might lead to changes in the price and quality of the overall offer of exam boards’ qualifications. They also considered the risks for which Ofqual might need to prepare given those changes. The Ofqual report looks at the purchasing behaviours of schools and colleges. It summarises findings from a survey conducted by Opinion Leader and other available evidence.
In combination, the reports conclude that:
- perceived quality, however defined, of exam boards’ qualifications is used principally by schools and colleges in choosing their provider
- price is a much less important factor
- relatively large changes in perceived quality of exam boards’ qualifications are required for schools or colleges to change providers
- there are high barriers to entry for exam boards wishing to enter the market
- a significant volume of entries are required to cover each exam board’s costs
- currently exam boards compete on quality and price.
The reports also identify a number of potential risks to the qualifications market depending on how competition evolves as a result of the reforms. These include questions about the marketing strategies of exam boards, the specifications they offer and prices (fees) they charge. We are gathering further evidence about these risks. For example:
- we intend to conduct a mystery shopping exercise to gather first-hand evidence of what teachers might experience when attending exam boards’ marketing and support events
- we have asked exam boards to provide information on the guiding principles that they use to decide the complete range of products and services they offer in support of their specifications
- we are engaging with exam boards about their approach to pricing the reformed qualifications, so that schools and colleges are able to budget for their future examination expenditure.