ISA in the News

10th January 2012

Exam Board Controversy: ISA Chair John Wood features in the Daily Telegraph and on the BBC News website.

Mr Wood has called on the Government to stop the aggressive commercialisation of exams, and ban the endorsement of text books and training courses by exam boards.

His comments have led to articles in The Daily Telegraph and on the BBC News Website.

Here is the full text of the ISA Press Release:

Independent Schools’ Leader Says Exam Board Textbooks Should Be Banned

A senior Independent Schools leader is calling on the Government to ban the endorsement of text books and training courses by exam boards.

John Wood, Headmaster of the Dixie Grammar School in Leicestershire, believes that examination groups should not be allowed to recommend textbooks or tie in materials. They should also be barred from offering training seminars which are closely linked to exam content.

His comments come after the announcement of an Ofqual review into exam board seminars, amid fears that the probe will not go far enough.

Mr Wood, who is the incoming Chair of the Independent Schools Association, also thinks that the safeguards proposed by exam boards are insufficient, and will do little to improve the system.

“The aggressive commercialisation of the exam system has seriously undermined its integrity. It cannot be right that exam boards are allowed to make money from textbooks and training seminars. This commercial activity needs to be more tightly regulated. This will raise standards by allowing teachers more freedom to choose high quality materials in support of pupils’ learning.”

“The provision of exams should also be separated from the provision of seminars and training courses. Such training is only open to those willing to pay, and this creates an uneven playing field for schools.”

Mr Wood believes that examiners, and especially chief examiners, must be banned from claiming any link to an exam group to help promote their own commercial interests. He suggests that a period of at least three years should pass between any examination and such commercial claims being made. He also feels that the changes currently being mooted are inadequate.

“Whilst we welcome the exam boards’ apparent willingness to overhaul procedures, the safeguards they propose are not sufficient, as the industry will still be largely policing itself. Exam boards should look to re-introduce proper oversight of exams at the subject level. Such advisory committees have largely disappeared, but wide stakeholder accountability with panels consisting of teachers, chief examiners and university representatives will help to ensure that standards are maintained. Perhaps the input of outside industry would also be useful – and help ensure that the oversight is impartial.”

In a further recommendation, John Wood suggests that schools be offered a broader choice of examinations. Diversity of choice in pupil exams is crucial to raising standards and will help maintain curricular development and innovation.

John Wood is appointed Chair of the Independent Schools Association this month. The ISA provides professional support to its 300 member Head Teachers. Founded in 1879, it is one of the oldest of the independent schools’ associations, and covers a range of schools from prep to secondary to sixth form.  Staff of member schools benefit from high quality training opportunities and access to a wide range of membership services, while pupils enjoy an extensive programme of local and national Sporting, Arts and Cultural events.

John Wood has been Headmaster of The Dixie Grammar School in Market Bosworth in Leicestershire since September 2005. He moved there from Kirkham Grammar School in Lancashire where he was Senior Deputy Headmaster for eight years.  He began his teaching career at Nottingham High School, where he was Head of Mathematics for six years before his move to Kirkham.

John was Chair of ISA’s Academic Policy Committee until the end of 2011 and he is the Association’s representative on the GSA/HMC Universities Committee.  He has also been treasurer of ISA Midland Region for a number of years.

Johngrew up in Southport, Lancashire, and was educated at King George V Grammar School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge where he read Mathematics.  Following a brief period working for Midland Bank, he moved to Durham University to undertake his PGCE course.  He is the author of a number of successful A Level Mathematics texts, which are used in many independent and state schools.  Outside of education John is very interested in the Arts and he is a member of the Board of Market Bosworth Festival.

Mr Wood commented:

“I am delighted and honoured to have been appointed as ISA Chair for 2012.  One of the great strengths of ISA is the diverse nature of our schools, ranging from small nursery schools to larger all through schools.  This puts us in a unique position within the Independent Heads’ Associations of having expertise in all areas of school age education.  Our schools offer enormous opportunities to our pupils and the great strength of pastoral care is a feature of which we are especially proud.  In this Olympic Year, we will be holding a Festival of Sport at the University of Nottingham, which should prove a memorable occasion for the many hundreds of pupils who will participate”.