Children and young people at the heart of decisions, says new Ofqual Chief Regulator

9th July 2021

On Tuesday, the government’s preferred candidate for Chief Regulator of Ofqual, Jo Saxton, faced a pre-appointment hearing with the House of Commons’ Education Select Committee.

Chair of the committee, Robert Halfon MP, began by asking about grade inflation, noting that ‘baking in’ grade inflation did nothing to close the disadvantage gap. Jo Saxton responded by saying that if appointed chief regulator, she would put children and young people at the heart of Ofqual decisions. Grade inflation is a priority, she went on to say, and that she would be looking to balance the interests and needs of learners with maintaining standards. While she admitted that grade inflation can be bad for standards, she added that we must consider the circumstances of the global pandemic, and ensure that young people get the qualifications they need.

Robert Halfon then went on to ask when there would be a return to normal grading. Jo Saxton reiterated that the pandemic had been a difficult and unpredictable time. She said that decisions on when exams go ahead would be for the government, and that the Secretary of State had already said that exams will go ahead in 2022. This year, she said it was right that ‘teachers rather than algorithms’ are deciding grades, as teachers know what pupils have been taught and what they can achieve. Jo Saxton emphasised that until we see data for this year’s exams, it is hard to say much more on grade inflation. She added that she would continue to work with stakeholders to ensure future qualifications are fair.

During the session, Jo Saxton was also questioned about her independence, with Gateshead MP Ian Mearns asking whether or not she was too close to the government, considering her previous work as a policy advisor to Gavin Williamson. In response, Jo Saxton said that she was not afraid to speak her mind, noting that she is interested in ‘children, young people and learning’, and ‘in policy, not politics’.

The past year has highlighted both the flaws in the current examinations system, but also the role they play in maintaining standards, and the motivation they provide for students as something to work towards, especially for GCSE and A Level students. Assessments are a key part of Schools North East’s lobbying work, and we will continue to ensure that Ofqual hears the voice of North East schools.

Since the pre-appointment hearing, the Education Select Committee have endorsed Jo Saxton as Ofqual Chief Regulator. She is due to take over from interim Chief Regulator, Simon Lebus, in September. We will be inviting Jo Saxton to speak at our annual Summit 2021. Booking to attend is now open at the following link.