GCSE Business controlled assessment: Setting it up

Mon Jun 06 10:03:00 UTC 2011

This is the first of a four-part series on controlled assessment for GCSE Business Unit 2, Investigating a Small Business. Here, the focus is on setting up and preparing for controlled assessment.

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GCSE Business Studies, Unit 2: controlled assessment – FAQs

Step 1: Setting up the controlled assessment (CA)

When you download the tasks from the web page, you will see the CA questions referred to as 'tasks'. When we talk to teachers, we usually refer to the students gearing their answer to the 'question'. The terms 'task' and 'question' are therefore synonymous.


Does Edexcel set the tasks or do I?

Edexcel sets 5 tasks each year which are published on the website.

When are the tasks available?

We release the tasks for each series on or around 31 January. The tasks are then 'live' for the next academic year and are valid until 15 May the following year. The CA can be done any time between these dates.

When can I make the tasks available to the students?

Please do not give students the titles too far in advance of the actual session, because it might allow students to work on them in breach of the time constraints.

Get CA 'on the radar'. A number of centres have found that it is sensible to alert parents and students by letter that a CA will be conducted at such-and-such a time. In preparation, it is useful for both parents and students to look around for small businesses that can be used as the basis for investigation and research.

Nearer to the time when the CA will be conducted, get the whole cohort together and explain the dos and don'ts of CA, how it will be organised in the school, when the write-up phase will occur and so on. At this point, give out the tasks and ask students to select their task over the next week, along with their business.

The students come back the following week with their business and task and the research phase can then begin.

Secure area

What is 'secure'?

'Secure' means that students cannot access their work or their research folder outside of their designated research time or their 3 hours' write-up time. The work should be saved in the designated (secure) part of the network set up for controlled assessment. Students cannot access this space from the normal student network outside of these lessons - it is effectively locked down. During the write-up they should not have access to the internet or to email accounts where, potentially, they could import work not done under controlled conditions.

If you're working on computers for the six-hour research period, then students can use the internet and other sources for this part. They may want to save sources, images and data to their 'electronic research folder'. These can be accessed during the write-up. If students choose to have a hard-copy research folder and do the write-up by hand, the teacher must make sure that the folder is kept securely and that students only have access to the folder and write-up material at designated times.

See also the JCQ Instructions for conducting controlled assessments – part 4.

Choice of topic

Do students have to do different topics for the controlled assessment or can they do the same?

We recommend that students be given the choice to select their own task. We also recommend that they choose their own small business to investigate. There are good educational reasons for this as well as more practical ones. Some tasks may be more appealing to some students than others, while some may have access to businesses that are more appropriate to some tasks. It is, of course, always likely that there will be some tasks that are more popular.

Choosing a business

Can all students do the same business?

The main problem with all students doing the same business and the same task is that teachers have found that the resulting work tends to be very similar, with the marks very bunched. This may be because students have not really had the opportunity to think individually and originally about how the research can be used to answer the question set.

If all the students are thinking about the problem together in the research phase, a kind of 'group think' develops which means that the thinking of each student has followed a similar path rather than making an individual and distinct journey. In addition, centres may be tempted to over-prescribe what students should do, contrary to the regulations of controlled assessment.

This excess prescription and 'group think' will tend to act as a constraint on those students who would have been forced to think independently and originally had they been tackling a task or business distinct from their peers. Teachers have found this bunching frustrating because, inevitably, some of their students will underperform as a result. The work which we have sampled in the moderation process seems to support this.

We can't insist that students choose their own business and do their own research, but this is what we recommend. Most of our centres are allowing students a choice.

Can students work in groups?

Students can work in small groups and could approach a business together, providing their research is carried out independently. For example, a group might investigate a business owned by the parents of one member of the group. The evidence in the research folder must be the students' own work.

Can the students use a local limited company or partnership or must it be a sole trader?

The title of the Unit is 'Introduction to Small Business', so provided that the business selected for investigation is small, it does not matter what the legal structure is.

Can students research a franchise?

Students can investigate a franchise. However, what must be made clear is that they are investigating the business unit itself and not the wider franchise. For example, students may choose to investigate a McDonald's franchise but get sidetracked by the main McDonald's corporate site. The focus must be on answering the question being tackled in relation to the particular small business unit being investigated. The issue here is whether the student is able to keep the focus ‘small’.

Can we use a well-known company such as The Body Shop rather than a small local company and investigate the business as it applies locally?

The title of the unit is 'Introduction to Small Business'. As such, we would expect the focus of the teaching and the assessment to be on small businesses. The problem with using large businesses is that the scale of operations is quite different, so the concepts that are covered in the course apply in a different way.

The sorts of businesses we are expecting to see used are butchers, bakers, antique shops, decorators, builders, carpet fitters, plumbers, electricians, hardware stores, hairdressers, vets, doctors, newsagents, solicitors, independent bookshops or music stores, farmers, builders, florists, takeaways, restaurants, fish and chip shops and so on. These are businesses that are common in virtually every part of the country. Students do not have to physically visit a business to carry out their research – it depends on the task. Some tasks might be completed by using observation research only.

We do feel that where centres have directed students to medium to large businesses the work has been weaker because the scale is greater and the students lose the focus of the task.

Basically, we do not recommend encouraging students to use medium to large businesses for this assessment. The key thing in all of this is that students are able to answer the question they have chosen; if they choose an inappropriate business then it will be more difficult to do so and their marks will reflect this.

Many centres, even with those with large cohorts, find empowering the students to find their own business (often by using family and friends’ contacts) very successful. We have centres where students are investigating 80 different small businesses. It might be worth remembering that there are around 4.8 million businesses in the UK and 3.9 million of these are sole traders who do not employ anyone. Only 6,000 businesses employ more than 250 people, so there really are plenty of small businesses around.

What if students cannot find a business to investigate?

Experience to date suggests that students, and families, can be very resourceful in identifying businesses to investigate. Commonly, families have contacts with people who run their own business. The point above about getting CA on the radar early can serve an important purpose here. If students – and parents – know early enough, they can often find businesses to investigate. In addition, if a student’s parent is a builder/plumber, it may be that two or three students in a ‘friendship group’ interview him or her for their investigation.

The business involved does not need to be an established name. One of the strengths of CA is how it encourages students to carry out their own investigation into a business which might not have occurred to them. Examples of businesses have been:

  • the family window cleaner
  • the local milkman
  • the owner of a pre-school business.

It is possible that a small number of students either cannot or will not be able to find a business. If this is the case, the school may decide to arrange for a local business to be investigated. For example, the owner of a local restaurant might be invited into school to be interviewed by the students. This should be the exception and teachers need to ensure that the students’ work is their own.

If you have any questions on setting up controlled assessment which have not been covered here, you can e-mail the Chair of Examiners or Chief Examiner using our Ask The Expert service.

Kind regards,


Colin Leith, Business and Economics subject advisor
Colin LeithBusiness and Economics
UK: 020 7010 2182
Intl: + 44 (0)20 7010 2182
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