Conference Recap: AO Forum, London

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The city of London has always been a treasure trove of inspiration, mystery, and innovation. For the AO Forum conference, bright minds and ideas came together that have left us interested in the future. So, pull up a virtual armchair, pour yourself a warm cup of Earl Grey, and let us recap the main takeaways for the AO Forum.

Don’t create museum pieces

The first presenter, Sarah Edmonds of Artemis Associates, coined the helpful phrase “don’t create museum pieces” when it comes to creating SOPs for Awarding Bodies.  Don’t put your processes in a shiny book and let it collect dust on your shelf, always have active and relevant procedures that you follow to reduce the risk of malpractice.

SOPs and well-defined processes are the bedrock of success for regulatory compliance boards in reducing malpractice risk. Organisations can establish a robust framework to streamline operations, ensure consistency, and promote transparency. These essential elements enable compliance boards to work efficiently and effectively, fostering accountability and integrity.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Streamlined Operations: Clear SOPs and processes provide a systematic approach to tasks, reducing the likelihood of errors and enhancing operational efficiency.
  2. Consistency and Transparency: Well-defined guidelines and protocols foster consistency across the organisation, ensuring equal treatment of all parties involved and promoting transparency in decision-making.
  3. Accountability and Integrity: Robust SOPs and processes create a culture of responsibility and honesty, helping to prevent malpractice and enhance the reputation of the regulatory compliance board.
  4. Public Trust: By effectively avoiding malpractice through clear SOPs and processes, regulatory compliance boards maintain the public’s trust in their ability to protect their interests and uphold industry standards.

A move toward a better, more high-quality workforce

The Level 3 review marks a significant shift in post-16 education policy, introducing new opportunities and challenges for the FE (Further Education) sector. Starting in 2025-2026, Level 3 academic and technical qualifications must adhere to new criteria, with funding approval withdrawn for those that still need to comply. Approved qualifications will be deemed “necessary, high quality, and clear in purpose.” As a result, A Levels and T Levels will become the favoured qualifications for 16-19-year-olds, although other technical and academic options will remain available. The review establishes a clear distinction between academic qualifications, designed to support progression to higher education, and technical qualifications, intended for progression to skilled employment or further specialised training.

Key Takeaways:

  1. New Criteria: Level 3 academic and technical qualifications must meet new standards from 2025-2026, ensuring they are necessary, high-quality, and purposeful.
  2. A Levels and T Levels as Qualifications of Choice: The Level 3 review will position A Levels and T Levels as preferred qualifications for 16-19-year-olds, but other options will still be accessible.
  3. Clear Distinction: The review differentiates between academic qualifications (for higher education progression) and technical qualifications (for skilled employment or further technical training).

ChatGPT an ever-present concern

The ChatGPT fears are still the talk of the town. The rise of advanced AI technologies like ChatGPT has led to growing concerns about dishonesty and malpractice within awarding organisations, specifically how to handle it. While these tools offer significant benefits in terms of efficiency and productivity, they also pose potential risks to the integrity of assessment outcomes.

Significant concerns with AI, as outlined by not only Sarah Edmonds but Ofqual as a whole, are:

  • Item writing – exciting possibilities, but risks as well
  • Marking concerns
  • Bias, ownership, and security
  • Use in assessment, candidate malpractice (cheating)

Key takeaway:

Safeguards and Guidelines: To protect the integrity of qualifications and maintain public trust, awarding organisations must establish clear guidelines and precautions for using AI.

Can we kep everyone happy? Should we even try?

Provocative headline for sure, but Vida Stewart and Fiona Summers of Laser Learning Awards made excellent points. Vida and Fiona shared their insights into managing an awarding organisation, particularly the challenge of balancing the needs and priorities of diverse stakeholders. Drawing on their extensive experience, they discussed the complexities of determining which stakeholders require the most attention and how they strive to satisfy their needs while maintaining the organisation’s goals and standards.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Balancing Stakeholder Priorities: Awarding organisations face the difficult task of meeting the needs of centres, learners, employers, staff, and shareholders with the restraints of the regulators, funding bodies, DfE, and professional bodies, necessitating careful navigation and decision-making.
  2. Adapting to Change: In an ever-changing external policy environment, awarding organisations must remain flexible and adaptive to ensure stakeholder satisfaction and uphold the integrity of their qualifications.

Cirrus Assessment was so grateful to attend and learn from this year’s presenters! We look forward to seeing all of you at the next.

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Cristina Gilbert
Cristina Gilbert
Copywriter and digital content enthusiast, Cristina is motivated by the fast-paced world of e-assessment and the opportunities online exams give students to thrive.
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