Turning education and skills policy into practice

The qualification and assessment design, development and delivery team

John Winkley

John Winkley

John is a director of AlphaPlus Consultancy Ltd and an experienced leader of projects in education. He is an experienced business manager with a track record of business growth in UK education and technology businesses. He has specialised in providing world-class services for standards, qualifications and assessment agencies in the UK and overseas, through the three companies he has helped to found and build over the last 15 years: BTL Group Ltd (, The Virtual College plc ( and his current business, AlphaPlus ( 

He has led design, development and evaluation work for academic, vocational and professional qualification systems, including English and mathematics for adults, UK and international GCSEs and A levels, and vocational qualifications in several countries. This includes managing the development and delivery of high-stakes examinations and skills-based assessments. He is currently working on a number of major TVET reform projects. His work for these and other clients includes quantitative and qualitative analysis, marking, moderation and standardisation programmes, assessment setting, and various quality assurance roles.

John has a BSc and MEng in Electrical Engineering from the University of Bath. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors. He is also Chairman of an Academy Trust Chain in West Yorkshire.

John is a recognised leader in assessment and technology-enabled assessment (on-screen testing, on-screen marking and e-portfolios). He has directed and managed a wide range of formative and external summative assessments and examinations including developing and delivering on-paper and on-screen assessment for Government clients such as Edexcel, City and Guilds, SQA, NCTL, UFI learndirect, BBC, DfE, BIS, Ofqual, STA, JISC, the Home Office, the Driving Standards Agency and for a number of international certification organisations. His assessment development work involves national assessment tools in Adult English and mathematics, as well as a diverse range of vocational, professional and basic skills tests.

John’s work includes advice and support to government and regulatory organisations on assessment and technology matters, as well as providing training and capacity-building. Recent projects include: delivery of major training programmes in qualifications, standards and assessment development for clients in the UK and internationally, assessment strategy for government surveys of basic skills in adults, migration to technology-supported assessments for a number of professional certification organisations and advice to major awarding organisations about commercial qualification strategy. Recent clients include: Pearson and Edexcel, City and Guilds, SQA, NCFE, NCTL, Learndirect, DfE, BIS and Welsh Government, Ofqual, STA, JISC, the Driving Standards Agency, Saudi Skills Standards, Saudi Ministry of Labour and the Qatar Supreme Education Council.

Sarah Maughan

Sarah Maughan

Sarah started working as Associate Director of Research at AlphaPlus in November 2014. Prior to this role Sarah was Director of Research at the National Foundation for Educational Research, and also worked at the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics and at Cambridge Assessment. Sarah is an expert in all types of assessment research and development. She has worked as a subject officer for general qualifications, developed national curriculum tests and worked on numerous assessment developments internationally. Sarah has also conducted research into, and written policy papers on, different models of assessment.

At Cambridge Assessment Sarah set up and led the Assessment Development Unit within Cambridge International Examinations. The unit was responsible for designing and developing a new suite of assessments and support materials for pupils age 7 to 11, which became known as the Cambridge Primary Programme. She also led the design and development of the Cambridge Lower Secondary Programme for pupils aged 11 to 14, and a suite of new international GCSEs.

At NFER Sarah led a team which developed key stage 2 national tests, and wrote policy papers and input to numerous consultations on assessment developments in England. She was on Ofqual’s Standards Advisory Group and also their Research Advisory Group. She also led the NFER international assessment team, which managed the UK’s contribution to the international assessment projects: PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), TIMSS (Trends in International Maths and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study).

Since working at AlphaPlus Sarah has contributed to a report on models of grading for vocational qualifications, a feasibility study for introducing e-assessment to a suite of national tests, and a review of a variety of A Level qualifications.

Sarah has a 1st Class degree in Psychology and a Masters in Educational Assessment. She is Fellow of the Association for Educational Assessment-Europe and chair of the Scientific Programme Committee for the 2015 conference in Glasgow. She is Honorary Professor in the School of Education at the University of Durham.

At Cambridge Assessment Sarah set up and led the Curriculum and Teacher Support Unit within Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). The unit was responsible for designing and developing web-based support materials for CIE’s suite of international qualifications, including Schemes of Work and low stakes diagnostic assessments linked to these. Sarah also led the development of a prototype e-assessment for a high stakes geography qualification.

At NFER Sarah led a team which developed a number of tests and assessments, using technology at various points in the process such as for item development and banking, administration of low stakes assessments, and e-marking. She also led the NFER international assessment team, which managed the UK’s contribution to the international assessment projects: PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), TIMSS (Trends in International Maths and Science Survey) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). These studies are gradually moving from paper-based to web-based delivery with trialling and overcoming new difficulties as they transition. Sarah also jointly authored a literature review for Ofqual on marking reliability, including the improvements to reliability afforded by the introduction of e-marking.

Since working at AlphaPlus Sarah has contributed to a feasibility study for introducing e-assessment to a suite of national tests.

Sarah authored a National Assessment Policy for the Ministry of Education in the Maldives and delivered training in its implementation to Ministry officials and senior teacher trainers and teachers from across the Republic. Sarah also delivered training on developing national assessments to the Ministry of Education in Lithuania.

While at NFER Sarah was on both Ofqual’s Standards Advisory Group and their Research Advisory Group. She was also on City and Guild’s Research Advisory Group. In these roles she provided advice on developing programmes of assessment research and input to technical and policy reports. While at NFER Sarah was also Head of Assessment Policy and Impact, developing and writing various policy papers presenting NFER’s views on different elements of assessment practice.

Since working at AlphaPlus Sarah has contributed to a report on models of grading for vocational qualifications and delivered training to a vocational awarding body on its implementation.

Sarah taught as a TEFL teacher internationally for six years. 

Tom Michell

Tom Mitchell

Tom has been a Director of AlphaPlus since 2010, and has worked in education and educational technology for the last 20 years. Tom was trained as a software engineer, and obtained a PhD in Machine Vision from Brunel University, where he subsequently worked as a Lecturer and research team leader. Tom subsequently ran an e-assessment technology company for 10 years, developing and deploying innovative e-assessment products for customers in the private and public sectors. As a consultant, Tom has been retained by some of the UK’s largest companies, including Unilever, National Power, and British Aerospace (Airbus).

Tom has an in-depth understanding of the role of technology in supporting and enhancing the assessment process and can offer hands-on experience in the design, development, implementation, and roll-out of e-assessment. Tom has designed and developed a number of e-assessment related technologies and platforms, including the award winning Progress Test for the University of Dundee Medical School, a system for on-screen delivery of essay examinations, and a formative science assessment tool for schools.

One of Tom’s first roles with AlphaPlus was as technical lead on an e-portfolio tools study for JISC. More recently, Tom was technical lead for AlphaPlus on a project for The Chartered Institute of Taxation, providing detailed technical consultancy and hands-on assistance in migrating one of their flagship qualifications from paper delivery to on-screen delivery. Following on from this, he and AlphaPlus colleagues are now investigating the options for on-screen marking of all the Institutes qualifications. In a similar vein, Tom has designed and reviewed on-screen functional skills tests for a number of awarding organisation clients including NCFE, SQA, City & Guilds, Ascentis and Skillsfirst. Tom has also regularly acted as consultant to SQA, working with key staff and stakeholders to help develop and refine SQA’s strategy for e-assessment. He is also a technical consultant to the SMART Centre at the University of Durham. He was a Specialist Advisor to the Skills Test Review Panel, which in 2013 was tasked by the Secretary of State for Education to carry out a full review of the on-screen Skills Tests for people wishing to become teachers.

Tom has been part of, and latterly led, a number of qualification and assessment design project for AlphaPlus. He has led teams of authors developing tests in functional skills English and mathematics for a number of awarding organisation clients, and has designed and developed functional skills ICT tests for NCFE, SQA, Ascentis and Skillsfirst. He led on the design and development of literacy items and tests as part of the ongoing “Quantitative Programme of Research for Adult English and Mathematics” project for BIS. He was project manager when AlphaPlus developed a completely new suite of QCF literacy and numeracy qualifications at Levels 1 and 2 for NCFE. He led and project managed on Bookmark and Angoff standard setting procedures for the qualified teacher skills tests for the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL). He was project manager and consultant on an Ofqual project looking to gain a better understanding of the major issues associated with the validity of regulated assessments in England. He was also project manager on a second Ofqual research project which examined evidence of differences between the 2008 and 2010 A level and GCSE specifications.

Andrew Boyle

Andrew Boyle

Andrew Boyle is an associate director of AlphaPlus with responsibility for quantitative research.

Andrew is a very experienced and well-regarded assessment researcher. He is a Fellow of the European assessment association, AEA-Europe, and was a Visiting Fellow of London University’s Institute of Education in 2013/14.

Andrew has worked for many leading UK assessment organisations, including: Cambridge Assessment, the National Foundation for Educational Research, the Qualifications & Curriculum Authority, the examinations regulator, Ofqual, and City & Guilds. At the last two organisations, Andrew rose to be Head of Research.

Andrew has carried out a wide range of analyses of examinations data, including this paper on reliability:, and this research using generalisability theory: He is also an accomplished user of item response theory.

Andrew writes clearly for diverse audiences; he has published a range of documents from detailed project reports, academic articles, award-winning conference papers, briefing notes and short articles in practitioner publications. Andrew is a good oral presenter as well; he has explained research findings to a wide range of audiences, from national chief executives, to international expert groups, to teachers and so on. He is one of AlphaPlus’s lead trainers on assessment topics.

Andrew has been leading commissioned research projects for 13 years. In that time, he has led some major national initiatives, as well as smaller, bespoke projects for professional and commercial organisations. Crucially, Andrew has commissioned others to do research as well as just delivering the service. He therefore understands the principal’s concerns in an outsourcing arrangement.

Clare Dowland

Clare Dowland

Clare is a long term associate of AlphaPlus Consultancy. Her work combines technical development of websites, information architecture and communications along with work on development and research projects.  

She has worked on a wide range of assessment projects, including developing the Driver Theory test matrices for the Driving Standards Agency and much of her early work with AlphaPlus was for Becta, including projects on Controlled Vocabularies, tagging tools, e-Assessment Readiness and the use of open source software in schools. Clare led the technical team that developed a series of online assessments for use in the BIS research project to investigate adult mathematics and English skills.

Qualification work includes the review of National Occupational Skills Standards and development of associated qualifications for Saudi Skills Standards, project manager on the QCDA Evaluation of the Functional Skills Pilot, conducting a review of vocational learning in Europe, including identification of skills needs and emerging trends in heritage, business and creative and cultural studies, developing a new curriculum framework for the Maltese school system, and the development of a range of publications for the Functional Skills Support Programme. Clare was part of the AlphaPlus team that was appointed by QCDA to review the Additional and Specialist Learning for the Diploma. She has also worked with AOs to develop qualifications including ones for Equality and Diversity, Employability and Foundation Learning Tier.

Zak Horrocks

Zak Horrocks

Zak Horrocks is a Prince 2 practitioner, who joined AlphaPlus as project support officer in 2013. Since that time, he has assisted AlphaPlus’s work across the full span of its activities. He has developing skills in data manipulation and analysis. He has set up complex spreadsheets to describe grading systems for a vocational awarding body, and has documented a large and complex bank of test questions for AlphaPlus’ high-stakes BIS adult English and Maths project. Zak works accurately, quickly and with the minimum of fuss. Zak has good and developing skills in Excel and SPSS, and he holds Associate status with AEA-Europe.

Adaora Ojechuku

Adaora Okechuku

Adaora joined AlphaPlus as a project manager in 2014. She has a strong research background, holds a doctoral degree in Microbiology. She also has experience teaching undergraduate life sciences, medical and dental students.

Adaora is a skilled project manager and is a PRINCE2 registered practitioner. She works efficiently to tight deadlines and manages projects through their full lifecycle from inception to successful completion. She has previously led and managed scientific research projects both in academia and industry. Adaora has also run specialist scientific meetings for expert speakers from around the world to collaborate and share ideas.

Prior to joining AlphaPlus, Adaora worked for a global medical communications agency, successfully managing medical education, medical affairs and commercial projects for some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, including GSK, AstraZeneca and Roche. She also successfully managed the finances of over 20 projects for these companies.

Since joining AlphaPlus, Adaora has been managing the Daroob 1 project for City & Guilds. This project is part of the overall initiative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to extend the training opportunities of Saudi job-seekers and employees seeking to develop in their careers. As part of this project, Adaora is managing the design, development and creation of computer-based tests and skills assessments for four occupations (accountancy, Guest relations, IT and Fashion Retail).

Adaora has recently been managing the BIS 18-21 Work Skills Pilot Evaluation. This project involves evaluating mandatory maths and English training for young jobseekers. She has also been managing the Tempus IV project, which is the European Union’s programme supporting the modernisation of higher education in the Partner Countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Western Balkans and the Mediterranean region, mainly through university cooperation projects. Adaora has also done some field work interviewing schools for the Capital Physics project run by the Institute of Physics. This project is a London-based programme with the aim of improving attainment in A level Physics in London schools.

Gillian Whitehouse

Gillian Whitehouse

Gillian is Head of Business Development at AlphaPlus and is responsible for creation of new business opportunities and the growth and development of existing opportunities. She has been involved in qualification and assessment research and development since 1998, having previously had an eight-year career as a Science and Technology teacher. She has worked for many of the leading assessment organisations in the UK: the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS), the University of Cambridge International Exams (CIE) part of Cambridge Assessment and Edexcel/ Pearson covering a wide range of both professional, general and vocational qualification and assessment development.

Throughout her career Gillian has delivered on many projects for high profile clients both in the UK and internationally, these include the development and implementation of the National Numeracy tests for years 2 to 9 for the Welsh Department for Education, a marking reliability study for Ofqual, e-portfolio comparative judgement ( e-scape) for QCA, curriculum and assessment standards for the Sultanate of Oman MoE, SATs Maths and Science tests for the Standards Testing Agency, a full programme of applied GCSEs, GCEs and GNVQs for Edexcel / Pearson, the Pre U Diploma, a suite of qualifications that compete directly with A levels but have more differentiation at the top end of the grade scale for university selection, the International Cambridge Primary and Secondary One curriculum and assessment for CIE, the first UK accreditation of IGCSE to be used by maintained schools for Cambridge Assessment, the development of a new 3-19 national curriculum and assessment instrument for the Egyptian Government. Most recent assessment projects involve the development of on-screen tests and skills based assessments in vocational and technical qualifications for Saudi Skills Standards who act as the regulatory awarding body overseeing technical and vocational education and training in Saudi Arabia and the development of e-assessments based on the Lower and Upper Secondary Normal (Technical) Science Syllabus for the Singapore MoE. Her particular strengths and interests are national and international curriculum, qualification and assessment systems and the development of educational standards.

Other national and international work includes the development of the first on-screen GCSE assessments for Edexcel in construction and the built environment and modern foreign languages, e-portfolio comparative judgement ( e-scape) for QCA - a method of ranking assessment judgements based on Thurston’s pairs, training the Singapore MoE science curriculum team in the application of onscreen testing and training support for SOLAS the Further Education and Training Authority in Ireland with the development of on-screen tests for their apprenticeship programme. Whilst at Edexcel and Cambridge International Exams she was responsible for the formation of both organisations’ first e-strategy, which outlined how each awarding body was to engage with e-assessment, e-marking and digital customer interfacing over the next decade. Most recent e-assessment projects involve the development of on-screen tests in vocational and technical qualifications for Saudi Skills Standards. In addition to the e-assessment focus, Gillian has also worked on other high profile assessment projects including the implementation of the National Numeracy tests for the Welsh Government, a marker reliability study for Ofqual, curriculum and assessment standards for the Sultanate of Oman MoE, SATs tests for STA, the Pre U Diploma, the Cambridge Primary and Secondary One curriculum and assessment, UK accreditation of IGCSE for Cambridge Assessment and the development of a new 3-19 national curriculum and assessment instrument for the Egyptian Government. Her particular strengths and interests are national and international curriculum, qualification and assessment systems and the development of assessment standards.

Professor Roger Murphy

Professor Roger Murphy

Professor Roger Murphy is an Associate Director of AlphaPlus and has worked in the field of educational assessment and examinations research for over 40 years. He is a former Dean of Education at Nottingham University and is also a past-President of the British Educational Research Association. He is also a Fellow of the Association of Educational Assessment Europe. He is the author of over one hundred books and articles in the field of educational assessment and evaluation. He is a member of the Ofqual Standards Advisory Group, the AQA Research Committee and is a non-executive director and board member of Pearson Education Ltd. He is best known for his work on qualifications design, development and research, and is one of a small number of UK academics specialising in this field. He regularly gets invited to consult on assessment issues both inside and outside the UK and has recent experience of working in Lesotho, Kosovo, Malta, Albania, Hong Kong, Macedonia, the Ukraine, USA and Australia. His expertise in assessment spans a wide range of fields of education in schools, colleges, universities and workplaces. He has specialist interests in professional education and has worked extensively in the fields of medicine, dentistry, nursing, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, midwifery, as well as teacher education. He has directed over 50 major national and international research projects in the field of educational assessment.

Roger  has a keen interest in the ways in which new technologies can be used to enhance education through improving both learning and assessments. He has advised both Pearson and AQA on research in this area, and has led developments in technology-led visual learning in higher education. For five years he was the Director of the University of Nottingham Visual Learning Lab, which was a HEFCE funded Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Professor Murphy has been actively involved in professional education and training for over 40 years. Much of his career has been spent in higher education in the UK, working on post-graduate courses for educators. He has successfully supervised over 40 doctoral students and has led the development of innovative post-graduate courses in educational assessment, research and evaluation. He is an experienced external examiner for post-graduate courses, and has also undertaken quality assessment work for the Quality Assurance Agency. He has worked closely with a range of government departments and was seconded part-time to the Department for Education and Employment for five years as a higher education adviser. He has also worked closely with a range of regulators including the QAA, Ofqual and the General Dental Council.

John Hamer

John Hamer

John Hamer is a director of AlphaPlus and has been part of the company since its foundation. He has long experience of developing and managing national examinations, and has written and lectured extensively on aspects of assessment - particularly in relation to history education. Prior to joining Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI) in 1984, he was an examiner and chief examiner in history at CSE, and GCE O and A levels for two awarding bodies. As a member of the Schools Council history committee he played a major role in the initial development of GCSE examinations and criteria related grading and marking in history. He also developed and trialled a number of experimental approaches to assessment, including the use of radio broadcasts and oral sources in history examining. Some of these approaches were subsequently adopted in operational examinations.

John joined HMI as a history, secondary and assessment specialist. In addition to inspection, including inspection of schools’ assessment procedures, much of his role was concerned with providing support for government and examination regulators. At various times, however, he worked on developing and reviewing level descriptions for national curriculum history; assisting the deliberations of the Task Group on Assessment and Testing (TGAT); and monitoring the initiative to introduce a national record of achievement for learners.

After leaving HMI, John joined the Centre for Developing and Evaluating Lifelong Learning (CDELL) at the University of Nottingham where he held a Special Lectureship in the School of Education. At CDELL he undertook a number of assessment focused research projects relating especially to National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), key skills 16-19, generic employability skills and adult basic skills.

At AlphaPlus John has worked on e-portfolios and led the research on the development of the 2010 skills for life survey, funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). AlphaPlus subsequently carried out the survey in partnership with the social research company TNS BMRB and Bradford Technology Ltd. He was a member of the team that conducted evaluation studies for the DFE on the impact of changes to GCE A levels and GCSEs, and of the pilot of the linked pair of GCSEs in mathematics. For the Welsh Government he helped with the design of a means of measuring the impact of provision on the outcomes achieved by young people as part of the Extending Entitlement and Learning Pathways 14-19 programme.

With AlphaPlus, the projects in which John has been involved include running training programmes for the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education, supporting functional skills and reporting on the viability of ESOL screening tools. Amongst the projects he has worked on for the Welsh Government are – the development of a sustainable model for the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales; the Recognition of Prior Learning in the context of the Welsh education and training system; and the production of guidance on the assessment, recording and reporting of pupils’ performance against the requirements of the Literacy and Numeracy Framework. Outside the United Kingdom he was part of a team working with teachers and teacher trainers in Mozambique on approaches to question setting in national examinations. He jointly led a Commonwealth Secretariat funded project designed to strengthen the measurement and evaluation capacity of the Caribbean Examination Council; and, most recently, has been working for the Council on Higher Education in Lesotho on the introduction of GCE Advanced Level qualifications into the country.