Hackney school could face exams ban under new rules

Exam Paper Pic: Ryan McGilchrist

Exam Paper Pic: Ryan McGilchrist

Qualification regulator Ofqual has placed a ban on schools redacting exam papers for religious reasons following criticism of a Jewish secondary school in Hackney.

Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School blacked out questions on evolution on 52 papers in GCSE science exams last summer, making it impossible for the pupils to answer the questions so that they missed out on potential marks.

The school, which serves the Orthodox Jewish Charedi community of Stamford Hill, believed the questions contradicted their religious beliefs.

Following an investigation by Qfqual, the qualification regulator released a statement on Monday saying that awarding organisations must not black out exam questions.

Furthermore, educational institutions found to be in breach of this code of conduct could be banned from holding any exams in the future.

Jonathan Rabson, Executive Director of National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools, speaking on behalf of Yesodey Hatorah, expressed his surprise at the announcement and believes that Ofqual should allow a religious exemption on exam questions.

He said: “We are seeking advice on this very concerning matter that affects schools in our Association.  The key point is the lack of consultation and the reversal of a recently documented agreement by OCR and Ofqual in October last year to allow for it on religious grounds.”

An Ofqual spokesperson said: “Having looked into the issue, we concluded that while the practice was very rare, it should not be allowed.

“Denying learners access to all the questions on a paper prevents the candidate achieving their full potential and therefore disadvantages them. It also threatens the validity of the qualification.”

Ofqual’s statement coincided with an announcement from the Department for Education that revealed SATs tests for 11 years olds were to be dramatically toughened, with a ban on calculators and marks deducted for poor spelling.

By Hannah Ashton

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