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GCSE, Functional Skills and online assessments: are exams coming to a screen near you?

With artificial intelligence (AI) seemingly taking the world by storm over the last few months, talk has again turned to how this can and will influence education (and education policy), teaching, teachers and students. Though lots has been written about the capacity and benefits of AI for assessment (especially here), it can be easy to overlook the existing developments in assessment: specifically, on-screen assessment.

With pilots trialled in both Functional Skills and GCSE since 2021, there are growing calls to broaden trials. And it’s not difficult to see why.

We live in a digital world, with everything from entertainment content, social media, shopping, banking, communication and even our love lives organised, facilitated and experienced through mobile phones, tablets and laptops. If the vast majority of our life experiences are completed through tech, why are physical exams still being sat as they were 100 years ago?

With students so familiar with all of the above, surely moving exams and assessments online will suit current habits? Well, perhaps not (and even, potentially, the opposite being true). Though students are enormously skilled at TikTok, YouTube and other social media, they can have limited skills in more traditional tech, struggling with devices like printers, scanners and even email.

Would this mean a new type of exam preparation? Could this mean cramming even more content into an academic year? Debate also rages over whether colleges are adequately resourced to support this revolution. If exams are to become fully computer based, do colleges have the laptops, desktops, software or space to facilitate them? Do they have the exam invigilators? Do we need exam invigilators if one IT engineer could monitor internet use for an entire centre?

Of course, there are benefits. Firstly, on-screen assessment is much kinder to the environment (no more shipping of scripts to a centre, then an awarding organisation, then a scanning centre/ examiner). Also, there is the possibility that multiple GCSE exams could be sat throughout the year (similar to Functional Skills), with the potential to even change the format of some elements of the exam paper. Anything that is accessed online certainly has the capacity to be more flexible.

But what does this mean for teachers? Well, if online assessments are to be rolled out, there would hopefully be very little change for teachers. Content should remain the same and teaching methods would continue to remain largely flexible. For students, this could represent a significant step change and potentially add even more anxiety to resit students in Further Education.

Whether significant changes come to fruition or not, it is important to remember that teachers, students and colleges need flexibility: having the option of paper based or on-screen assessment is something that should remain. Consistency would remain regardless of which type of assessment was chosen.

Whether paper based, online or a hybrid approach takes prominence, digital tools will remain as vital as ever in supporting students to prepare, revise and complete assessments. Tools such as the GCSE English and GCSE maths Development Wheel, with a range of resources for teachers and students (as well as teacher CPD), will continue to support student progress.

For more information on The Development Wheel, and how it can help your students and teachers to make significant progress, and The Base Project, contact our National Education Lead Jonny Kay directly at to see the support, resources and huge impact the project and our team can have.

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