Exam board seeks Board of Deputies' advice after 'prejudice against Jews' GCSE question

By Marcus Dysch, June 14, 2012

An exam board which set a controversial GCSE question asking why some people are prejudiced against Jews has acknowledged the upset caused by the question.

More than 1,000 students sat the AQA Religious Studies paper which asked: “Explain, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove strongly criticised AQA over the question.

In a meeting last Friday with the Board of Deputies, AQA chief executive Andrew Hall pledged to work more closely with the Jewish community to avoid any future such incidents.

Discussions will also take place on whether the Holocaust should be taught as part of the history syllabus – which is studied by more students – or in the religious studies syllabus.

Around half the students who took last month’s exam were from Jewish schools. AQA said draft versions of the question had been sent to its chairman and chief examiner and a panel of around 16 education specialists had discussed the paper to consider whether any questions could be deemed offensive.

Mr Hall said pupils’ answers showed they had understood the question in the way examiners had intended, but he admitted that the wording could have been written in a way less likely to cause offence.

AQA and the Board agreed to improve their relationship and consult each other more widely. Work will be carried out to raise awareness of the problem of exam clashes with Shabbat and Yom Tov, and more Jewish experts will be used on exam panels and in training.

The Board is also likely to help AQA address its need for more Jewish and Sikh examiners. The exam board is also planning to set up a working group to assist setting its Judaism A-Level syllabus.

Board chief executive Jon Benjamin, who met AQA officials alongside the Board’s education consultant Sandra Teacher and education officer Sara Younger, said: “It is clear that AQA had no intention to offend, and genuinely wanted to examine students on the issue of the causes of prejudice, something that is seen as a valuable part of the course.

“Unfortunately, in an effort to find a novel way of asking a perennial question, the actual question posed focused on the victims of prejudice, and Jews in particular, rather than the perpetrators.”

Last updated: 11:10am, June 15 2012