• Our response to the announcement on reforms to Key Stage 4

    In September 2012, the Department for Education launched a consultation on plans to develop new qualifications for Key Stage 4. Here’s our response.

    Pearson UK president Rod Bristow said:

    “Pearson has argued that action is required to secure the public confidence in the strength and purpose of our education system, and ensure that we are being as ambitious as possible for all young people. This was further reinforced by our extensive consultation with teachers, students, parents and policy makers ‘Leading on Standards’.

    “British schoolchildren must be confident that the qualifications they work so hard to achieve will enable them to go on and succeed in their lives. This requires a global perspective, a focus on the future and wide consultation to develop an exam system which is rigorous, inclusive and equips children with the kind of skills and aptitudes they will need in the modern world.

    “Pearson are already working with an international panel of assessment experts, the teaching profession, employers and learners to develop English, Maths and Science qualifications which will motivate young people, adapt best practice from around the world, and help all young people to develop the knowledge and skills they need to compete with their peers globally.

    “After a period of significant uncertainty, we welcome the clarity the Government has now given as to their intended approach to reform. It is vital that we now have an open and consultative process which helps formulate a clear plan for ensuring continuing improvement and investment in examinations over time.

    “Over half a million pupils take core GCSE exams every year, and the process of replacing it needs to be carefully managed. Pearson are committed to being a partner in supporting schools and learners through any period of transition, and we are pleased to see that the timetable outlined reflects the need for an adequate period to prepare teachers and learners for any change.”

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  • Our statement on Edexcel's GCSE English results

    Here’s our statement in response to September 2012 press reports on the subject of GCSE English grade boundaries.

    A spokesperson for Pearson said:

    “The letters which have been leaked to the press today reflect a moment in time during extensive discussions with the regulator this summer. Following these we went on to make a decision on grade boundaries for English GCSE, which we consider fair to learners and which we stand by as right.

    “We understand that the ongoing debate is unsettling to students and we want to give reassurance that we have done everything in our power to represent their interests.

    “In setting grade boundaries, our responsibilities are two-fold. First, to maintain standards year-on-year for our qualifications, so that similar candidate performance is rewarded comparably over time. Second, to work with Ofqual and other awarding organisations to ensure a nationally-maintained standard, so that students of different cohorts and different awarding organisations are treated comparably.

    “We have been consistent in stating that grade boundaries for Edexcel GCSE English this year were the subject of lengthy discussion both with Ofqual and the other awarding organisations. With the introduction of new specifications, all awarding organisations needed to make changes to their January boundaries for June to ensure standards were maintained year on year. We also considered reissuing grades for students who took units in January.

    “The letters which have emerged in the press and have been discussed in select committee today are part of that discussion.

    “At the time these letters were issued, other awarding organisations had already taken decisions on changes to their grade boundaries and had those decisions accepted by Ofqual. Given the relatively small number of students who take English with Edexcel, the grade boundary decisions of other awarding organisations have a larger impact on national results than our own.

    “We felt that the original grade boundary changes suggested by Ofqual, based on prediction data and the decisions of other awarding organisations, would not enable us to adequately reflect student work in their grades. After extensive discussion with Ofqual we agreed a June grade boundary which took account of our concerns to recognise the candidate performance our examiners observed. This reported results slightly above original Ofqual predictions.

    “We are therefore satisfied that the final grade boundary we set for June enabled us to fairly reward learners as well as uphold the standard of the GCSE.

    “The letters which have emerged in the press give a partial picture of the discussions between Edexcel and Ofqual. We therefore feel it is important to publish the full set of letters in order to give a full picture of what was agreed.”

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  • Pearson launches higher education college

    At Pearson, we’re launching a higher education college - becoming the first FTSE 100 company to directly deliver degrees in the UK.

    The college is seeking to recruit the brightest and most entrepreneurial students and equip them with the knowledge and skills employers seek.

    The college has worked with a range of businesses to design a unique style of business degree. The Pearson Business and Enterprise degree course will focus on preparing students for the world of business and has been developed in conjunction with BT, Cisco, the Peter Jones Foundation and Atos. Students will graduate with a BSc (Hons) degree validated by Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, part of the University of London. Students will study in a corporate environment at Pearson’s offices in London or Manchester and also take part in a residential at Royal Holloway’s campus. The degree includes a guaranteed internship programme and a company-based mentor for every student.

    Pearson College is currently recruiting a small cohort of pioneers to start in September, ready for the main launch in September 2013. Applicants will undergo an Oxbridge style assessment day which includes an interview and aptitude test. While standard entry requirements are ABB at A-Level (or equivalent), the college is using the assessment day to consider students with potential, looking at their ability and motivation, and not just their previous academic success.

    Tuition fees are set at £6,500 per year for the three year programme. Pearson is offering ‘Performance Scholarships’ to cover the course fees for the very brightest.

    The Pearson Business degree is flexible and students have the choice of three routes, enabling them to choose the one that best fits their lifestyle. The traditional three year mode follows the same yearly pattern as traditional universities; alternatively students can choose to accelerate over the summer and complete in only two years; and finally students can combine work and study and complete in only four years.

    Commenting, Roxanne Stockwell, Managing Director, Pearson College, said:

    “Given its academic publishing heritage and over 150 years of commercial experience, Pearson is uniquely placed to develop and deliver degrees that combine a solid academic foundation with meeting business and employer needs.

    “Our degrees are designed by business, delivered with business, for students who are serious about succeeding in business.

    “We have a network of blue chip industry relationships, many of whom are working with us on the design and delivery of our degree programmes. This gives us an inherent understanding of the modern business environment and employer needs. Our degrees will therefore embed professional work experience, business skills and etiquette, with significant and relevant input from our industry partners.”

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  • 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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