Earlier this month, the Department for Education released their national projections of pupils entering education in England, up to the year 2026.

In 2017, the overall number of pupils in secondary school increased for the second year in a row, reaching an estimated 2,797,000. Primarily caused by an increase in birth rate in 2002 onwards, there are now larger numbers entering secondary schools at age 11, than are leaving them at age 16. Projected figures also suggest that there will be an average 2.4% increase year on year until 2026 – a total increase of 19.1% in the next decade.

Why are we seeing an increase?

Changes in the school age population are largely driven by birth rate. During times of affluence, financial stability leads many to believe that it is a good time to start a family, thanks to an increase in disposable income. The early noughties saw an economic mini-boom until the credit crunch and financial crisis of 2007-2008.

All state funded schools: pupil numbers by age group, actual and projected

However, net migration can impact the flow of students entering into secondary school. With Brexit still causing uncertainty for EU citizens living in England there is a chance that the projected figures could drop by up to 0.7%. This equates to almost half a million students, who will not be entering into secondary school in England.

What does this mean for assessment?

The projected increase in number of students can be seen as a good thing for the assessment industry. An increase in birth rate means that more students will require education and accreditation, leading to a larger market to serve.

However, the increase in demand can be seen as a double edged sword. One of the biggest challenges faced by awarding bodies is examiner recruitment and retention. If fewer teachers enter or remain in the profession, and changing curricula starts to discourage retired teachers from continuing to examine once they have left the profession, this issue might increase exponentially, at a time when demand for assessment and marking will be higher than ever.

Can technology help?

The assessment industry can leverage technology to help reduce some of the current and forecasted strains on the system.

E-marking distributes scripts to examiners electronically and in a more accommodating way. This flexibility can help retain examiners, by allowing the examiners to mark when and where (within set guidelines) they want. Examiners are also able to have individual questions assigned to them, which can be beneficial in several ways. For instance, where an examiner fails to mark to standard on one question, but succeeds on others, they can continue to mark the items they are achieving the standard for, with the other question item diverted to other examiners.

On-going investment by the assessment industry in future technologies will need to continue to improve the efficiency and capacity of assessment and marking, whilst not compromising quality and integrity.

Technology can also improve the efficiency of the assessment cycle, allowing for more exams to be sat at interval stages throughout the year. Quite often the challenge of paper testing comes not from the actual administration of the event itself but from all the tasks that take place before and after test day. Months of work go into such tasks as securing testing facilities, hiring local-based proctors (invigilators), developing and printing test materials and arranging for secure delivery and storage of the test content. Post-test activities, such as the retrieval, scanning and scoring of test materials, can prove just as time-consuming and labour-intensive. Some of these tasks could be improved on or removed completely in a transition to full e-assessment.

One such awarding board, The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), along with the help of RM Results, was able to reduce their exam life-cycle with the use of e-marking. Find out how they were able to do this, by downloading our case study.