Assessment in secondary school

Secondary assessment


We need reform of our assessment and exams systems to make them fit for the future.


Learn about A New Era

The secondary assessment working party

This final report advocates reform of 14-19 assessment and qualifications, following the many other reports aimed at researching and promoting equitable and reliable alternative approaches to assessment in secondary education.

Read the report


The NEU is campaigning for a better, fairer system of assessment in secondary education. There is agreement among educators, parents and academics that the current high-stakes system is not fit for purpose.

The focus on assessing GCSEs and A Levels solely via end-of-course exams simply does not prepare students for life after school or college. Throughout school, the pressures caused by high-stakes tests and exams are having a detrimental impact on children’s wellbeing.

This country’s over-reliance on a rigid, one size fits all exam system, and Government's continued insistence on defunding vital BTECs and CAMTECs, is unsustainable and doesn’t meet the various challenges facing young people, our society and our economy in the 21st century.



The experiences of grading in 2020 and 2021 showed the fragility of the outdated assessment system. The rushed, last-minute processes implemented by Government for assessment during the pandemic are not models for the future, however the system needs to change and has shown it can. The teaching profession is brim full of experts who understand the lessons we can learn from the pandemic.

The NEU has worked alongside academics, parents and students to support the Independent Assessment Commission (IAC), to build principles for a new, fairer and more robust assessment and qualification system, one which recognises the realities of the 21st century and supports all young people to succeed. Now is the time for Government to listen the growing chorus of voices calling for change.

The NEU is also working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Schools Learning and Assessment to make the case for change in Westminster.


Polling for the Independent Assessment Commission (IAC) shows widespread support for reform of England’s high-stakes exams system.

Surveys of students and teachers found both groups believe the current system of assessing secondary qualifications such as GCSEs and A Levels is unfair, takes enjoyment away from learning and puts people off life-long learning. A separate survey by the charity Parentkind found similar views among parents.

The polling of teachers and young people aged 18-22 who had been through the exams system in the last five years, conducted by Deltapoll, found:

 The small survey conducted by Parentkind supported the findings of the IAC’s poll. The release of the results came days after the 2022 A Level and GCSE results were announced.

  • Three-quarters of teachers and seven in ten students believed secondary assessment needs reform
  • Shifting to a mixed mode of assessment combining coursework-based assessment alongside some exams was welcomed by a majority of teachers (68%) and young people (51%) alike.
  • Almost half of teachers (49%) and four in ten young people believed the current exam system impacts negatively on student mental health
  • Both teachers (75%) and young people (61%) agreed that moving to a mixed-mode assessment regime would improve student mental health outcomes
  • 72% of teachers and 63% of young people felt mixed mode assessments would be fairer
  • 72% of young people and 79% of teachers believed high-stakes testing reduces student enjoyment of learning
  • Both teachers (68%) and 18-22s (67%) agreed in similar numbers that a focus on high-stakes terminal exams puts young people off lifelong learning


The Independent Assessment Commission

The NEU formed the Independent Assessment Commission with organisations representing students, parents, business and universities. The consensus voice of all those involved in the IAC – including politicians from all political parties – has made a clear case for change.

The NEU is using the Commission's report findings to further champion a New ERA of equitable, reliable assessment and a qualification system that:

  • is fit for purpose for the 21st century,
  • allows all students to demonstrate and be recognised for what they can do,
  • is more relevant and robust than relying solely on exams
  • addresses the impacts on mental health and wellbeing that the current system imposes by placing all assessment at one cliff-edge moment.


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New Era Assessment

Teachers, students and parents want change

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We need reform of our assessment and exams systems to make them fit for the future.

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