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"But We Don't Have Enough Computers!" Delivering digital exams for UK schools

The main four England and Wales General Qualifications exam owners have set out their digital school exam stall. It's shook many digital refuseniks out of the education woodwork. Social media lit up with bizarre, mis-informed pronouncements from school and college leaders: "Where has this come from...cognitive science says no...we don't have enough computers...but I'm CEO of a school."

Logistically Impossible? Last week, a Principal of an England Further Education College complained that digital exams are, "Logistically impossible to do...". 20 years ago, that college had a 30 seat lab delivering IT digital exams. I saw it with my own eyes! It was using the same IT delivery infrastructure being proposed for 2025. Surely the college hasn't regressed in 20 years?

If you work in the sector, it appears incredibly neglectful to be unaware of digital exam developments. It also appears disingenous for school and college leaders to act as though they cannot help, shoulder shrug, and say it won't work.

Why would they do that? Consider this: why would highly visible, public exam owners, some with shareholders, all announce a 'logistically impossible' strategy? Have all of these exam owners made a collective mistake? Have they not tried this elsewhere or trialled it?

A 20 year old Policy Direction Digitising school exams is a 20 year old England policy direction (2004 2013 2023), using 30 year old infrastructure, that serves multi-millions of learners and candidates every year. If leaders keep saying, 'We Don't Have Enough Computers', they're firing a starting pistol to sunset their provision. Parents just hear, 'We can't deliver, go somewhere else'. Many other exam owners have delivered digital exams and assessment in schools and colleges successfully, at scale, these past two decades.

This is a 20 year old policy, using 30 year old IT infrastructure, with multi-millions of digital exams served every year.

What needs to happen next? Education leaders must plan to re-configure infrastructure and budgets for digital delivery; or partner with a capacity and/ or hardware organisation. There are lots of UK-based companies offering test seats, pop-up centres, peripatetic delivery, and permanent bricks-and-mortar test centres. They'll also find the computers and invigilators for you. Even property companies are now actively getting involved in serving education and assessment.

From 'We Can't Do This, to It'll Cost This' Leaders need to articulate what they need for digital exam delivery, and offer up costed solutions. Moaning on social media that 'it's impossible' makes everyone look bad, despite exam owners offering help with plentiful examples and research here, here, here, here, and here. And not forgetting some I made earlier!

Good luck!


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