CEO Message - January 2023: Ofqual data highlights the areas to focus upon ahead of the summer 2023 exam series

In recent weeks, Ofqual has published several reports which analyse the summer 2022 exam series, revealing a range of statistics which highlight the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and areas which need to be improved ahead of this summer’s exam series.

The NAEO January exams article considers the statistics relating to malpractice and access arrangements in greater detail and suggests recommendations where there are areas of concern. 

Summer 2022 exam series

It is important to be aware of the numbers involved in the delivery of a summer exam series – and the scale of the system which exams officers support in centres across the UK. The key statistics for summer 2022 include:

  • Nearly 1,500 different question papers were made available to 1.23 million students (898,950 – GCSE, 33,110 – AS, 299,710 – A level)
  • 6.05 million entries (5,219,550 – GCSE, 61,355 – AS, 776,625 – A-level)
  • Approximately 15.7 million individual exam scripts

When cases of malpractice are analysed, they should be considered in the context of the number of students taking examinations during an exam series and the number of question papers taken.

For more information see Ofqual’s GCSE, AS and A level summer report 2022


A summary of malpractice during the summer 2022 exam series includes:

  • The number of penalties issued to students increased since the last time exams took place: 4,335 penalties were issued to students in 2022, up from 3,040 in 2019, and representing 0.03% of entries
  • Mobile phone and other communication device offences accounted for 43% of all student penalties: There were 1,845 penalties for this type of offence in 2022, compared with 1,385 in 2019
  • The number of penalties issued to school or college staff decreased since the last time exams took place: 340 penalties were issued to staff in 2022, down from 450 in 2019. This involves a very small proportion of the total number of staff in England (nearly 360,000)
  • The number of penalties issued to schools or colleges decreased since the last time exams took place: 60 penalties were issued to schools and colleges in 2022, down from 135 in 2019, and involving 0.9% of centres
  • Of concern, is the increase in disruptive behaviour amongst students. This rose from 4.3% of malpractice cases in 2019 to 6.4% during the summer 2022 exam series
  • The most common type of penalty issued in 2022 was a loss of marks, with the number of this type of penalty increasing to 2075 from 1560 in 2019
  • Other penalties issued included a warning (1455 penalties) and a loss of aggregation or certification opportunity (805 penalties)

Although it could be argued that the number of malpractice cases is relatively small compared to the number of students and question papers sat during summer 2022, it is imperative that measures are taken to ensure that all forms of malpractice are eradicated within centres and amongst staff and students. This pursuit of ‘zero cases of malpractice’ will help to maintain the UK’s position as a world leader in the management, administration and conducting of examinations.

For more information see Ofqual’s Malpractice in GCSE, AS and A level: summer 2022 exam series statistics

Access arrangements

Any discussions relating to the awarding of access arrangements must be placed within the context of equal opportunity, and that students who have been appropriately assessed and for whom it is their ‘normal way of working’ have every right to an arrangement/adjustment which allows them to access the examination or assessment without changing the demands of the assessment.

However, the main trends in approved access arrangements for GCSE, AS and A level for the 2021 to 2022 academic year in England do raise some questions and possibly the need for further analysis. The main statistics are:

  • There were 512,085 approved access arrangements, up by 14.4% compared to the 2020 to 2021 academic year when there were 447,555 approved applications. This is a continuation of the upward trend seen before the 2020 to 2021 academic year
  • Among the types of access arrangements approved, arrangements for 25% extra time made up 65.3% of all approved arrangements in the 2021 to 2022 academic year, compared to 65.8% in the 2020 to 2021 academic year
  • The number of candidates awarded access arrangements – should it be expected that 42% of all students have an approved access arrangement?
  • The number of candidates awarded extra time of 25% across all centres - should it be expected that more than 1 in 4 students require 25% extra time?
  • The number of candidates awarded extra time of 25%, and over 25%, within the independent sector (almost 2 in 5 students) and Sixth Form/FE colleges (1 in 3 students) was significantly higher than those students within secondary non-selective, non-independent centres. It may be that the independent sector is more ‘efficient’ at assessing their students, but this needs to be confirmed as the reason behind the large number of candidates awarded these arrangements
  • There were 61,125 requests for modified papers this year, up 4.9% on summer 2019

It should it be noted that the statistics published by Ofqual do not include centre delegated (approved) arrangements which can be requested without needing exam board approval, the data in this release only covers those arrangements granted through JCQ’s Access Arrangements Online system.

For more information see Ofqual’s Access arrangements for GCSE, AS and A level: 2021 to 2022 academic year statistics

Vocational and Technical Qualifications

The NAEO welcomes Ofqual’s proposals in ensuring that students studying vocational and technical qualifications will get their results when they expect to in summer 2023.

The NAEO will support awarding bodies in addressing the following as detailed in Ofqual’s action plan:

  • Ofqual will introduce a new results deadline by which awarding organisations must issue results, for qualifications that are used for progression to further or higher education, to schools and colleges and other centre types for eligible students. Awarding organisations would be permitted to issue results in advance of this deadline, so that the flexibilities which are a valued aspect of VTQs are not undermined
  • Awarding organisations need to have better visibility of which students are taking their assessments, when they are taking them and when they are intending to complete. Therefore, awarding organisations will be required to introduce a series of checkpoints, throughout the year, so that they, and schools, colleges and other centre types, can be sure that they have a common understanding of each student’s intention and can track that they are making sufficient progress to achieve a result
  • Awarding organisations must work more closely with UCAS to reconcile data about students using qualifications for admission to higher education to track the results needed for progression
  • Ofqual will launch and host a new VTQ information hub that brings together all the key information in to one central location. Awarding organisations will provide information so Ofqual can collate their individual timescales, deadlines and arrangements. Ofqual will require awarding organisations to keep this information up to date
  • Ofqual will update and add to their resources for exams officers. Over the next year, Ofqual will work with the National Association of Examinations Officers and the wider sector to promote and support the role of the exams officer
  • Ofqual will bring awarding organisations together so they can explore ways in which they can streamline their communications and introduce consistent ways of targeting and signalling which communications are urgent or which are general updates
  • Ofqual proposes to require awarding organisations to collect, and to keep up to date, contact details for that individual from every school and college and other centre types, so that, should escalation be necessary, it can be done efficiently and effectively. Awarding organisations need to have contact details for a senior leader in the centre who has responsibility for exam delivery and who has the authority to access information and progress decisions swiftly

The NAEO also welcomes Ofqual’s invitation to join their 2023 VTQ results taskforce, where we look forward to representing the views of the exams officer community. This will also offer an opportunity to ensure that those exams officers who are employed on term time only contracts are not adversely impacted by the recommendations within the Ofqual’s action plan.

For more information see Ofqual’s Action Plan: Vocational and Technical Qualifications results 2023

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