|Type||Non-ministerial government department|
|Headquarters||Earlsdon Park, 53-55 Butts Road, Coventry, CV1 3BH|
|Annual budget||£17.5 million (2018/19)|
The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) is a non-ministerial government department that regulates qualifications, exams and tests in England. Colloquially and publicly, Ofqual is often referred to as the exam "watchdog".
Ofqual was established in interim form on 8 April 2008 as part of Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), taking over the regulatory functions that had previously been undertaken by the QCA directly through its regulation and standards division. It was always intended that Ofqual would be an entirely separate body from the QCA. This was achieved on 1 April 2010 when Ofqual was established as a non-ministerial government department under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009.
In 2020, Ofqual was involved in an GCSE and A/Level grading controversy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ofqual's role is "to maintain standards and confidence in qualifications."
Ofqual regulates exams, qualifications and tests in England. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are regulated by each respective national government. However, the Scottish Qualifications Authority is also accredited by Ofqual.
Ofqual collaborates closely with the UK government and the Department for Education on general qualifications, such as GCSEs and A levels, and with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on vocational qualifications such as NVQs and BTECs. In Northern Ireland Ofqual regulated NVQs on behalf of the Department for Employment and Learning until May 2016; this responsibility has since been handed to the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment.
Ofqual is the authority which regulates and accredits British examination boards offering GCSEs and GCE A levels while it is the Joint Council for Qualifications which regulates administration of actual GCSE and A Level examinations.
The Conservative Party under Prime Minister David Cameron initiated reforms for A Levels to change from the current modular to a linear structure. British examination boards (Edexcel, AQA and OCR) regulated and accredited by Ofqual responded to the government's reform announcements by modifying syllabi of several A Level subjects. However, in 2014 the Labour Party announced that it would halt and reverse the reforms and maintain the modular A-Level system if it got into government. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge have expressed support for the modular system.
Recent reports reveal that the linear examination approach and the toughening educational reforms initiated by Ofqual provoked many schools to "play the system" by requesting test remarking and supplementary aid for students (e.g. special consideration and extra time) in order to uphold high exam grade levels so as to not drop in league tables.
Rising numbers of students taking GCSEs and GCE A Levels over the past decades has led to an increase in the quantity of examination results being enquired for re-marking and reported to Ofqual.
Ofqual's remit and responsibilities are established in law by the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 and the Education Act 2011. As a Non-ministerial department Ofqual is accountable to Parliament, through the Education Select Committee. It is not accountable to government ministers and is independent from ministerial government. Whereas Ofqual regulates and accredits British examination boards (e.g. Edexcel, AQA, OCR etc.) and their GCSE and GCE A-Level specifications; the examination board CAIE (Cambridge Assessment International Education) which offers international GCSEs and GCE A-Levels predominantly for schools outside the United Kingdom operates independently without British governmental intervention. Therefore, although CAIE qualifications are accredited by Ofqual, they are not regulated by it and thus may differ significantly in subject content and exam structure from UK GCSEs and GCE A-Levels.
Ofqual has four directorates:
The Chief Regulator is the leader and figurehead of Ofqual.
Originally, the Chief Regulator was also the Chair of Ofqual. When the Chief Regulator position was vacant during 2010 and 2011, the Deputy Chair, Dame Sandra Burslem DBE, took on 'many of the responsibilities', though was never formally named Chief Regulator or Chair.
On 1 April 2012, in line with the Education Act 2011, the Chief Regulator role transferred from the Chair of Ofqual to the Chief Executive of Ofqual. When the Chief Regulator post was vacant in 2016, the Chair acted as the Interim Chief Regulator.
Until 31 March 2012, the Chair of Ofqual was also the Chief Regulator. When the Chair position was vacant during 2010 and 2011, the Deputy Chair, Dame Sandra Burslem, 'stepped in to provide continuity', though was never formally named Chair or Chief Regulator.
On 1 April 2012, the position of Chief Executive ceased to exist as an independent role when it was merged with the post of Chief Regulator.
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