• International expert panel to define new gold standard in assessment

    Pearson is to bring together an international panel of assessment and education experts to support the development of a new gold standard qualification for age 16.

    Pearson, which has a presence in education provision and support in over 70 countries, plans to work with the group to set out a blueprint for assessments which are

    • Internationally benchmarked and rigorous
    • Designed to cater for all ability levels and set high expectations for all
    • Relevant for the changing landscape of the 21st century

    The Panel will be chaired by Pearson’s Chief Education Advisor Sir Michael Barber, one of the world’s leading education experts and will include representatives from the OECD, Harvard, University of Durham, the National Institute of Education Singapore, University of Warwick, as well as Peter Hill, formerly Chief Executive of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority and Secretary General of Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority.

    Pearson is committed to working with the Panel to create a new suite of qualifications, initially in the key subjects of English, Mathematics and the Sciences.

    The company also plans to share the insights and suggestions of the Panel with the Department for Education and others to inform ongoing discussions about the reform of GCSEs and A levels.

    Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK, said:

    “The Government has this summer started a hugely important debate about whether what we are teaching and testing in our schools is doing our children justice.

    “We are working with some of the world’s most eminent academic institutions and respected authorities in assessment to look beyond the UK to determine what excellence looks like internationally, and how we can embed it in the UK.

    “It is vital that qualifications are of the right standard to help people progress and prosper in the 21st century. All young people should be reaching for a standard which will set them apart from the rest of the world in the ambition and relevance of what they know and can do.”

    Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s Chief Education Advisor, and Chair of the Expert Group on World Class Qualifications, said:

    “The UK Government has set an ambitious agenda for the reform of education, with a particular focus on qualifications and assessment. They have been the first to turn to international data and comparators to diagnose the issues and problems they see in the system.

    “The gold standard is not what happened in the 1950s in England, it is what is already happening in Singapore and Hong Kong and Ontario and Alberta. The gold standard is being set by the best education systems ready for the 21st century.

    “As an international education company Pearson is uniquely placed to draw on our own work with Governments around the world and bring together the best and brightest in seeking to improve the quality and effectiveness of our qualifications.

    “A crucial part of this work will be a new focus on using technology to make assessments more accurate and personalised. If we crack this, then we will be in position where the UK is ahead of the pack on educational innovation and reform.”

    Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education to the OECD, said:

    “Through PISA, OECD have set the current gold standard in international comparative assessment. This is important because Governments are able to really understand the impact of investment and reform they are making.

    “In a global economy, it is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best performing education systems internationally that are the benchmark for success.

    “What’s exciting about this programme is that it seeks to create a new approach to national assessment that will allow Government to compare performance with the best performing education systems globally”.

    Peter Hill said:

    “We shouldn’t lose sight of the high regard the UK’s examination system is held in. However it is absolutely right to push the envelope on what can be achieved.

    “Education systems must embrace the significant opportunity to design assessments which are more rigorous and reliable in testing the skills higher education and employers want.

    “Even in its early stages, this work is grappling with the tough question as to how we can set a standard for education which encompasses the new and fast changing skills needs of the 21st century, and extends the opportunity to achieve them to all.”

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  • Our statement on possible reforms to the examinations system

    This statement sets out Pearson’s perspective on the debate on the examinations system in England.

    We give this perspective as the parent company of the awarding organisation Edexcel, and as one of the leading providers of educational resources and learning technologies.


    Public confidence in our examination system and concern that the education our children are receiving is falling behind the best in the world are matters of enormous significance for our society, our economy – and for Pearson.

    We welcome the continued debate about how confidence can be strengthened, and are committed to playing our full part in finding solutions. This includes support for structural change. However, if we are to take that course, we must be convinced that this is in the best interests of learners over the long term.

    In having this debate, we must make sure that conclusions about standards are reached based on evidence, not anecdote. We must also be mindful not to undermine the hard work and achievements of the students who will receive the results of their GCSEs, AS and A levels over the next few weeks. Their performance will be a reward for a tremendous amount of hard work. In praising their efforts, we have to ensure we put in place a system that meets the needs of young people and our economy in the future.

    Looking to how the system can be improved to deliver that, we should focus on key principles which must underpin reforms, and evaluate the options in the light of them. We believe that ambition, inclusion and relevance are central to any successful education system.


    Education Secretary Michael Gove was right recently to stress that setting high expectations for all children must be at the heart of any reforms. Helping foster ‘a culture of ambition’ was the goal of our ‘Leading on Standards’ consultation on our examinations system earlier this year – and the recommendations which came out of it.

    Many of these recommendations, such as a limit on the number of resits which can be taken to improve grades, need action from Government and regulators as well as examining bodies like Pearson in order to be implemented. But there are also steps which we have already taken to protect and improve standards.

    To help counter concerns about conflicts of interests and encouraging teaching to tests, our senior examiners will no longer be solely responsible for authoring textbooks. We have also taken the lead in improving our BTEC vocational qualifications which, from this year, have a greater emphasis on maths and English and increased external assessment.

    But ensuring our young people are supported and encouraged to fulfil their potential is a challenge which will require more thought and action. We need to ensure our ambition for education at minimum matches the expectations set for children the world over, and we must set about developing the global benchmarks. We need to ensure our young people can compete with the very best.


    We have to make these reforms, too, while ensuring our examination system fosters ambition for all young people. This is what marks out the best education systems and best performing economies. It is also key to social mobility.

    In identifying what needs to be improved, we must not go back to the divisions which were a fundamental flaw in the system before the introduction of GCSEs. Only a third of pupils took O levels; another third sat CSEs, while the rest left education at 16 without any school leaving certificate. Decisions as to how high pupils should aim in education, and therefore in life, were made when pupils were just 14. We must never go back to a time when we asked so little of so many young people, and when lifechances were determined so early on.

    With the slow-down in social mobility raising such concern, we should remember that it was often those in the middle - who had most to gain for having their ambitions set high - who found themselves on the wrong side of the divide. We have a duty to ensure we nurture, support and stretch across the range of ability.


    Nor can we afford to prepare children for non-skilled jobs which no longer exist. It is vital that our education system produces, and the examination system rewards, young people who have the knowledge, skills and ability to continue learning what they and our economy need to be successful now and in the future. Employers – and universities – complain that this is not the case at present. They have to be fully involved in reforming our examination system.

    They complain about a lack of basic skills such as reading, writing and maths. Our examinations must do more to help drive improvements in these core areas.

    But employers, as the recent CBI survey confirmed, also want a greater focus at school on initiative, problem-solving and communication skills. When the best education systems across the world are working towards producing adaptable and creative students, we must not measure success largely on an ability to repeat information learnt by rote.

    The challenge

    We are determined at Pearson to help find the solutions to all these challenges. We recognise, for example, that the concern about the impact of competition between awarding bodies is one reason why confidence in examinations and results is declining. The Education Secretary’s suggestion of a single examinations board for each subject could be an answer to the perception of a ‘race to the bottom’ in qualifications. Yet if we choose to take this forward, we must find a way to guard against the risk in the future that any monopoly might lead to a lack of innovation and stagnation.

    Inertia won’t be a problem initially – our current well-resourced and experienced awarding bodies will compete against each other to offer each subject. But the diversity and capacity currently in the system across all subjects would be unlikely to endure if awarding organisations faced long periods without any opportunity to offer curricula, qualifications or examinations in certain subjects. Many of the investments made over the last decade – in examination administration, new technologies, in diverse specifications and in improved support for schools and pupils – may not have come to pass without the current competitive environment.

    We must also not lose sight of the fact that countries with a range of different examinations systems suffer from concerns about issues such as grade inflation, and that some of the challenges we currently face originate in high levels of government intervention and regulation rather than the reverse. This argument has been powerfully put by the Education Select Committee and others with respect to the impact of the accountability system on practices within schools.

    This is not to reject change, but rather to ensure that the changes pursued lead to incentives which match our aspirations. The goal in all reforms must be to ensure that changes to examinations drive the improvements in standards which we want to see in our education system and which, over the long term, will set the example for other countries to follow.

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  • Girls forging ahead in practical learning

    New data published by Pearson shows that girls studying BTECs at Level 2 outperform boys across most subjects, including many seen as ‘boys’ subjects’.

    A greater percentage of girls achieved the top marks compared to boys in subjects including business, construction and engineering.

    The data show that whilst boys continue to make up the majority of learners in these subjects, with boys representing 58% of BTEC Business learners at Level 2 and 56% of BTEC Business learners at Level 3, girls who take the courses outperform their male peers. In construction, boys represent 96% of learners at Level 2, and 94% of learners in engineering.

    On overall performance at Level 2, the data show:

    • In Business & Services 28% of girls secured a Distinction* compared to 17% of boys.
    • In Construction and the Built Environment 18% of girls secured a Distinction* compared to 7% of boys.
    • In Engineering 28% of girls secured a Distinction* compared to 16%of boys.

    The pattern is replicated at Level 3 (A level equivalent), where:

    • 48% of female learners awarded a BTEC Level 3 (Extended Diploma) in Business achieved the highest possible grade (DDD) as opposed to37% of male learners.
    • 39% of female learners awarded a BTEC Level 3 (Extended Diploma) in Engineering achieved the highest possible grade (DDD) as opposed to 29% of male learners.
    • 48% of female learners awarded a BTEC Level 3 (Extended Diploma) in Construction achieved the highest possible grade (DDD) compared to 34% of male learners.

    Yet the data also reveal that, despite their success, not all girls are persuaded of the case for taking more vocational routes. Girls make up only 6% of all students studying Engineering at Level 2, with percentages falling even lower at Level 3 to 4%. Just 9% of Level 3 learners in Construction and the Built Environment were girls.

    These statistics are published on the same day as Pearson announces engineering student Megan Turner as the Outstanding BTEC Science and Engineering Student and Overall BTEC Student of the Year.Megan, who is expected to be awarded a DDD in her BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Engineering, is also set to go on to study engineering at Aston University. As part of her course she has been working with Loughborough University on a pioneering engineering project which could have commercial applications. Megan has also worked to develop links with local primary schools and encourage more girls to take up engineering. Megan will receive her award alongside other winners at a ceremony in London today, hosted by The Voice star Reggie Yates.

    Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK, said:

    “I hope these figures will give more girls the confidence to see careers in business, construction and engineering as within their reach. A learner’s gender should never influence the subjects they study nor be treated as an indicator as to how well they will perform.

    “Megan is a fantastic engineering student from Loughborough who is using the experience gained studying her Level 3 BTEC to go on to university. She should be congratulated on her many achievements so far and I hope she will inspire more girls to study engineering.”

    Pearson was the first awarding body to publish the achievements of students in schools and colleges studying a major vocational qualification. We are committed to the annual publication of these statistics. This is the second annual data release.

    Since BTEC students receive their grades on a rolling basis throughout the academic year, today’s data relate to calendar year results gained at level 2 and level 3 from 1 June 2011 to 31 May 2012.

    Alongside the certification data, Pearson has also published completion rates for BTEC, showing what percentage of students successfully complete their BTEC qualifications. Unlike A levels and GCSEs, BTECs are completed when students are ready, so a completion rate is calculated in place of a pass rate. Candidates who are withdrawn before any assessment are not included in these statistics. Completion rates are calculated over an academic year (1 September– 31 August), rather than over a twelve-month period as with the certification statistics. As a BTEC typically takes two years to complete, the rate is calculated through collecting registration data and recording how many pupils have completed their courses to date.

    Research by London Economics in 2010 found that students who have a BTEC Level 2 qualification and five good GCSEs increase their lifetime earning potential by 5.9% compared to those who have just five or more GCSEs.

    In 2009/10 (the last year for which data is available), 92,000 BTEC students applied to Higher Education Institutions, up from around 71,000 in 07/08. They successfully started courses in a variety of subjects including Maths, Engineering and Science. 6.4% of students were at Russell Group or 1994 universities.

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  • BTEC Awards highlight achievements of one million learners

    Megan Turner, a 17-year-old engineering student from Loughborough, has won the Overall Outstanding BTEC Student of the Year at the National BTEC Awards.

    The awards ceremony will take place this afternoon (Thursday 5th July) in London and will be hosted by Reggie Yates co-host of the BBC’s The Voice.

    The 2nd annual National BTEC Awards provide a platform for students, teachers, schools and colleges to celebrate their outstanding achievements in vocational learning.

    Nearly one million students around the country are studying BTEC qualifications this year. Pearson, the parent company of Edexcel, the awarding body for BTECs, received over 500 nominations across the 15 award categories for this year’s awards.

    The winners announced today include:

    Outstanding BTEC Student of the Year: Megan Turner, Loughborough College. Megan is expected to be awarded a D*D*D* in her BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Engineering. The judges were impressed that Megan had balanced her studies with developing links with local primary schools, encouraging more girls into engineering. As part of her BTEC, Megan has also begun working with Loughborough University on a pioneering engineering project which could have commercial applications in the future. On applying to Aston University to study a Design Engineering degree the admissions tutor recommended Megan enter directly on to their Masters programme due to the industrial experience her BTEC qualification had already provided.

    Anne Markland, who teaches Performing Arts at Preston College is the Outstanding BTEC Teacher of the Year. Judges praised Anne’s outstanding commitment to her students who constantly exceed their expected grades. In her own time she also arranges numerous school trips abroad and external shows for her students. Anne has also worked tirelessly to develop links with local special schools, developing projects involving both able bodied students and those with physical disabilities. She also assists her students through the UCAS application system, with many going on to pursue their passion for Performing Arts at university.

    Outstanding BTEC School/College of the Year: Ashton 6th Form College. Ashton’s Children Care Learning and Development Department currently boasts a 100% pass rate across all programmes and an 84% progression rate to Higher Education. Judges felt these fantastic progression rates were also partly the result of the numerous university visits, preparation sessions and inspirational talks from industry leaders, organised for the students.

    Outstanding BTEC Adult Learner: Tawa Atanda, City College Coventry. Tawa, desperate to find fashionable clothes post pregnancy, was inspired to pursue a fashion/textile course to gain skills and experience to set up her own fashion label. Whilst studying at college she has already received a total of 14 Distinctions and 2 merit grades on the BTEC Extended Diploma in Fashion and is expected to gain a DDD on her final award. She has used her final major project to produce a women’s wear collection, using traditional printed fabric from Nigeria targeted at 18-25 year olds balancing Western and African styles. She is currently working with the Sandwell Woman’s Enterprise Agency to set up her own fashion business.

    The Awards will be hosted by Radio 1 DJ and The Voice host Reggie Yates, at The Royal Horticultural Halls in London and will be attended by nominated students, teachers, and leaders in education. David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science will also speak at the ceremony.

    David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said:

    “These awards rightly celebrate the practical skills and knowledge which will help our economy grow and remain competitive with the rest of the world.

    “I congratulate all of this year’s award winners who have shown tremendous dedication in their work and who can all be very proud of what they have achieved.”

    Rod Bristow, President, Pearson UK said,

    “I am delighted the National BTEC Awards are now in their second year and going from strength to strength. In a modern economy with complex and rapidly shifting skills needs, we need practitioners who understand the theory, and academics who can put things into practice. BTEC aims to give students access to that kind of rounded education.

    “More and more universities and employers are telling us that they value that rounded approach. Every year, thousands of BTEC students go on to great universities and fantastic jobs that really value their skills. They achieve great things in a wide variety of industries vital to the economy, ranging from business and engineering to ICT and healthcare.

    “It is vital to support and celebrate the hard work and achievements of outstanding BTEC students and their teachers. All the judges were impressed by the quality and number of nominations we received.”

    Awards host, Radio One DJ Reggie Yates said,

    “I’m really excited to be part of this year’s National BTEC Awards. To succeed in my industry and any other you need to set yourself high ambitions and work hard to hone the right skills and knowledge. You need to be able to deliver on the day, not just know the theory.

    “All the winners today have shown real passion and commitment to achieving their goals and deserve to be put on a pedestal as an inspiration to others.”

    About the awards

    The full list of winners of the National BTEC Awards will be formally announced at the ceremony on 5th July 2012, but please contact Sam Cunningham for more information if you wish to speak to specific winners.

    The full list of categories is as follows:

    Sector Awards

    Outstanding BTEC Business and Enterprise Student
    Outstanding BTEC IT Student
    Outstanding BTEC Media Student
    Outstanding BTEC Science and Engineering Student
    Outstanding BTEC Creative Art & Design Student
    Outstanding BTEC Child & Social Care Student
    Outstanding BTEC Sport Student
    Outstanding BTEC Performing Arts Student
    Outstanding BTEC Beauty and Hospitality Student

    Main Awards

    Outstanding BTEC Student of the Year
    Outstanding BTEC Teacher / Tutor of the Year
    Outstanding BTEC School / College of the Year
    Outstanding BTEC Adult Learner of the Year
    Outstanding BTEC Apprentice of the Year (16-18 )
    Outstanding Adult BTEC Apprentice of the Year (19+)
    Most Innovative BTEC Apprenticeship Provider of the Year

    The judging panel for the Awards included:

    Sandra Kelly - Whitbread
    Euthan Newman - BTEC Tutor, South Thames College
    Nick Linford - Editor, FE Week
    Stephen Exley – Reporter, TES
    Maryam Momla – Current Apprentice
    Rod Bristow - President, Pearson UK
    Rod Smith - MD Vocational, Pearson
    Trevor Luker - MD WBL, Pearson (Apprentice awards only)

    Find out more about the National BTEC Awards

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  • Our response to Education Select Committee report on exams

    An Education Select Committee report on the examination system has rejected moves to a single national exam board or to single boards for each subject.

    The Committee suggests that there should be a single national syllabus for each subject which would be accredited by the regulator, Ofqual, with every exam board able to set question papers against that syllabus.

    Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK said:

    “This is a thoughtful and rounded report, which tackles a number of complex issues in a sensitive and balanced way.

    “It is vital that we address the public perception that competition between awarding organisations leads to downward pressure on standards. Pearson is committed to being a partner in making the changes necessary to enable this. Nothing is more important than ensuring that the effort of pupils is rewarded with qualifications which everyone is confident represent the very best in educational standards, at home and abroad.

    “Awarding organisations already work closely with higher education, learned societies and employers to ensure that specifications support progression. However, the “National Syllabus” approach could deepen this and is worthy of further discussion. We welcome the intention to ensure that incentives to innovation in assessment, exam administration and support for schools remain strong, since we believe there is much scope to build on the progress of the last decade in this area.

    “A high quality and challenging curriculum needs to be accompanied by engaging and effective resources to bring them to life. Our endorsement procedures ensure we reward books which encourage broad and stretching teaching and learning. Pearson’s internal firewalls ensure that employees who have a responsibility for publishing have no knowledge of what will be on a given year’s exam paper. As the Report notes, Pearson is also currently considering approaches to contain the authoring activities of our senior examiners. We are in discussion with the regulator on this matter, and we will work with them to ensure public confidence in the system, and in Pearson, is assured. We note, too, the Committee’s recommendation on the treatment of other publishers’ resources on our website, and will reflect this.

    “We agree with the Committee that change cannot be pursued in isolation to reforms of the accountability system, which needs revision to reward schools for achieving high expectations for all learners, and offering a rounded education.”

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