Over the past 15 years exam-boards have got more and more involved in teaching.  We believe that this is wrong.  Of course, it is important that…

  • exams are set and marked efficiently, that standards are maintained and that students, teachers, parents, employers and universities can trust grades.
  • there should be choice in subject-matter and style, so that teachers can teach to their strengths and accommodate the interests and skills of their students.
  • teachers are able to find quality resources and training, form networks with other teachers and progress within their subject-area.

Nevertheless, it is not necessarily good news that exam-boards have moved from the first area towards competing on grounds of popularity and “accessibility” and dominating the textbook, INSET and student-events market.

When examiners become well-known figures, when they start to write the textbook, give the INSET (beyond just exam-feedback and assessment-training) and lecture the candidates on exam-topics, both at their own schools and at commercial events, then questions must be asked about the integrity of the system.  

  • Can rich people get a better grade just by buying books and notes and attending events? 
  • Are standards and what is accepted as right and true being unduly influenced by one person?
  • Is the examiner really the best person to write the books, train the teachers or inspire the students, independently of whether they are the examiner – or is the fact that they do these things dependent on their employment by an exam-board?

The fact that these questions are being asked doesn’t do the subject, or the education system in general, much good – regardless of what the answers might be.  

Many teachers (and students) assume that unless a book, INSET or event is endorsed by an exam-board it won’t improve grades.  This is pure nonsense.  Suspect though aspects of the exam-system may be, it still rewards thorough knowledge and understanding of specified topics.  Further, students with a genuine interest in the subject tend to be better motivated, to read and think more widely and to become more attractive candidates for Universities.  

Some teachers ask why we don’t do separate events for AS and A2, so that their students don’t have to “sit through” topics which they won’t study until next year – or which they have already been examined on.  We are committed to offering in-depth events for Ethics and Philosophy separately, rather than trying to do a whistle-stop tour of two very different subject areas in one day.  But more than this, we believe that all students benefit from the full conference experience.  PLEASE don’t see sessions as if they were modular and allow students to pick-and-mix which ones to attend.  

The programmes and resources are carefully designed to be cohesive wholes, building and cross-referencing ideas between sessions.  We don’t assume prior knowledge, but have high expectations of students.  Sessions are clear and accompanied by notes or other resources which make it unnecessary to copy down notes.  Our events are developed with reference to OCR, AQA, Edexcel and WJEC specifications, by teachers with experience of teaching most of them. We indicate where sessions relate most obviously to syllabus-content, but such references are not exhaustive and mostly sessions relate to several topics, not just one.  If you need advice about what is to be taught or how, please ask us!

Further, compare the content of OCR, AQA, Edexcel and WJEC AS and A2 and it is obvious that they are not that different, whatever the boards might seem to suggest.