In the United Kingdom, there are seven main examinations boards, also known as awarding bodies, that are responsible for setting, marking and awarding secondary education qualifications such as GCSEs, A Levels and BTEC vocational qualifications to students. Most exam boards are charities and independent from the Government. However the government regulates exam board qualifications and exam syllabi.
The seven examination boards are:
AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance)
AQA is the largest of the English exam boards in the U.K with 3.5 million exam entries each year. Its exams include GCSEs, IGCSEs, A Levels, AQA Baccalaureate and vocational qualifications and are taken in more than 7,000 schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. AQA sets and marks half of all GCSEs and A Levels taken every year.
CIE (University of Cambridge International Examinations)
Part of the University of Cambridge, the CIE awards international qualifications in more than 160 countries. These include: Cambridge IGCSE, Cambridge O Level, Cambridge International AS and A Level and Cambridge Pre-U.
CCEA (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment)
CCEA is the exam board in Northern Ireland. It advises the Government on what should be taught and provides exams to around 300 school and colleges.
Edexcel (Edexcel Pearson – London Examinations)
Edexcel is the only privately owned exam board in the U.K; is the brand name for academic and general qualifications from Pearson. Almost all of its exams are sat in England and it offers GCSEs, A Levels and a wide range of vocational qualifications including NVQs and Functional Skills.
ICAAE (International Curriculum and Assessment Agency Examinations)
The ICAAE is a specialist exam board offering a small number of papers in business and ICT. It is the smallest exam board for state schools.
OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations)
Around 15,000 education providers are registered with the OCR, and 10% of its exams are sat by pupils attending private schools. It offers A Levels, GCSEs and vocational qualifications, such as Cambridge Nationals, Cambridge Technicals and Cambridge Progression qualifications.
WJEC (Welsh Joint Education Committee)
WJEC is the Welsh exam board and is based in Cardiff. Although it is based in Wales and offers Welsh-language exams, the majority of the exam papers produced by the WJEC are sat in England. More than 5,000 English schools and colleges are registered with the board, compared with less than 500 in Wales. The WJEC also provides the Welsh baccalaureate.
Schools often have the freedom to select their preferred exam board for a particular subject. For example, a school may choose to teach the AQA syllabus for Maths and offer the Edexcel syllabus for Chemistry at GCSE level. Different exam boards can also be chosen for different secondary education qualification levels. Thus, GCSE Maths can be taught using the AQA syllabus but A-level Maths taught using the OCR syllabus within the same school. Although there can be confusion and contention over which exam board offers the best results, it is apparent that the flexibility that comes from the variety of exam boards on offer can be beneficial to both teachers and students. With independent school pupils being taught in smaller classes and the need to compete with their peers for admittance into highly selective schools and institutions being far greater, the choice of a more academically rigorous exam board may be more justified. By having a variety of syllabi to choose from, examination boards are incentivised to maintain syllabi that are innovative and compelling and ultimately give students more choices in higher education.