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As the Principal Researcher for our Research and Technical Standards team, headed by Mike Forster, I am part of the Assessment Standards Team at OCR. We carry out valuable research and technical studies into new developments in education and assessment. OCR is part of Cambridge Assessment which is a department of the University of Cambridge.
Working closely with our chairs of examiners, subject specialists and researchers from other exam boards we carry out many different types of research project at OCR. Some extend over several years and others are much shorter – just a few weeks or months. Some projects focus on individual subjects or qualifications, while others make comparisons across subjects and levels. We use research to inform the development of new qualifications, evaluate existing qualifications and assessments, and explore the wider impact on the educational landscape. As part of the university we take research very seriously. We are lucky to work very closely with Cambridge Assessment’s Assessment Research and Development Division (ARD) which employs some of the UK’s leading assessment researchers. Some of our recent projects include:
Some GCSEs, such as maths or science, use tiering in which students and teachers are offered a choice of two papers: a higher tier paper targeted at grades A*–D, and a foundation tier paper targeted at grades C–G. There has been criticism that some students’ achievement might be capped because they are entered for the foundation tier, and limited to a maximum grade C, when they are capable of achieving a grade B or better. Cambridge Assessment’s Research Division investigated this issue and found that boys and students from economically deprived backgrounds were more likely to be entered for the foundation tier, even when their prior attainment at Key Stage 2 was controlled for. However, overall there was relatively little evidence that large numbers of students’ achievement was capped suggesting that teachers are mostly able to enter students for the appropriate tier. Further information on this project can be found on our website.
When the reformed science A Levels are introduced, practical work will be assessed using questions in the written exams and through a Practical Endorsement which won’t count towards a student’s grade, but will require students to complete practical activities from 12 different areas of the course. We think that this new model for practical science will help teachers to integrate practical work into their teaching, and avoid some of the problems associated with the current coursework model. This year we started a project which will continue over several years to try to identify whether, or how, practical work in A Level sciences is changing. It’s too soon for any results from this project, but we will keep you updated! For further information about OCR’s work on practical science, please see our Positive about Practicals website.
A Level History qualifications allow teachers to select from a wide range of different topics. At this time of reform, teachers have an opportunity to re-assess their choice of topics. Using a questionnaire, Simon Child, Ellie Darlington and Tim Gill from Cambridge Assessment’s Research Division asked teachers what factors influenced their choice of history topics. The majority of heads of department said that they chose topics after discussion with other teachers in the department, that the expertise of teachers and student engagement in the topics played an important role in their decisions and the need to ensure students covered a breadth of topics was also key in their decision making. Further details on the choices that motivate History teachers can be found on our website.
For further information about Cambridge Assessment’s research, please visit our website.
Helen O'Leary - Senior Customer Support Manager
Since joining Cambridge Assessment in 2004, Helen has worked in many areas of the organisation, starting her career with Cambridge International Examinations, before taking up her current role in 2011 as Senior Customer Support Manager for OCR.
Helen's role is extremely varied and she considers herself really lucky to get to meet many of OCR's customers, across a wide variety of educational contexts. She is passionate about great customer service and loves to hear about what OCR get right, as well as what could be improved, so that OCR can provide an enhanced customer experience.
In this blog series, you’ll hear from a variety of experts across OCR and the wider organisation. Helen hopes you find the information useful and if there’s anything that you would like to see featured then please do get in touch.