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Does the act you've known for all these years need a refresh?

It was 20 years ago today on April 20, 2004. England's exam regulator stood on stage and delivered a seminal speech. In front of a packed London Royal Festival Hall, Dr. Ken Boston of QCA said he'd seen the pilot programmes. Witnessed how the UK delivered multi-millions of on-screen, invigilated tests. And realised how SEN school learners could get a much fairer deal.

Boston proclaimed, "On-screen assessment will shortly touch the life of every learner in this country."

Journalists wrote, "Pack away those pens, the age of online exams is at hand, and "school tests online by 2009.” And again in 2013 and 2023. What happened?

Under Boston, the regulator was confident and authoritative. He wasn't a lucky man who made the grade. He changed the cottage industry practices of the exam sector. Parcels of exam papers are no longer left on Post Office counters. All exam scripts now marked on-screen. Robust software is deployed to build exam questions and papers. The school Exams Officer role is now professionalised. They even endorsed my research project!

But almost every Chief Regulator since Boston has treated digital exams and e-assessment as the wild naughty nephew, shushed, and told to speak only when spoken to. Fast forward 20 years and the latest Chief Regulator claims: ‘You can’t hack an exam paper.’ I know there are 4,000 holes in this statement. Don’t tell him that his organisation has been regulating on-screen exams since at least 2010!

You can't hack an exam paper. But don’t tell the regulator they’ve already regulated huge numbers of on-screen tests.

Some argue the Chief Regulator was mis-guided and mis-spoke. But he got it right. And here’s why. The Regulator needs answers to specific questions on digital exams for schools: What problems are we solving? What are the specific benefits? How does this ensure a fair(er) deal for learners? Can we show, tell, and prove how it’s done elsewhere at scale? What solutions are available for kit, capacity, and connectivity?

Here's the harsh truth: Suppliers and trade bodies have come up short in articulating the benefits of digital exams and e-assessment, and showing where and why it works. That's what the Regulator is saying.

The supplier sector and its trade bodies have come up short in articulating the benefits of digital exams.

So how do we answer those questions? We need a new campaign to overcome objections and debunk myths. Persuade and convince the policy folk, lobbyists, and education allies.

But to start a new campaign, we must stop doing something else. How about 'stop shaking the sponsorship tin' for a while? Doing an easy thing or an easy deal, rarely moves the debate along or changes minds. Exams and assessment are a mainstream education story. Building consensus needs authority and a much bigger audience.

Stop shaking the sponsorship tin - start a new campaign to build consensus.

A fresh campaign would

  • Spearhead a sector-wide movement.

  • Persuade people to change opinions about digital exams.

  • Mobilise and incentivise others to join in, and discover for themselves.

  • Produce tangible action from alliances and collectives.

  • Set the news agenda on digital exams.

And here’s how we do it

  1. Form a spokesperson panel to respond rapidly - give target audiences data, insight, comment, and advice.

  2. Run press days at digital exam test centres, and at schools delivering digitally.

  3. Engage with and create special interest groups to show how digital exams give SEN school learners a fair deal.

  4. Create a tailored resource with easily accessible references where school exams have already been delivered on-screen globally.

  5. Craft worked examples, such as detailing how off-site school exam delivery raises the bar on security and service.

  6. Design infographics to easily explain how the digital risk profile changes, and how it’s mitigated.

  7. Show-and-tell invigilator and exam officer stories - especially those full-time careerists who've seen and done it all.

I know we’ll need a little help from our friends, so who’s up for campaigning?


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