The Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board (OCSEB) was established on 8 November 1873, when representatives of the Delegacy for the Inspection and Examination of Schools of the University of Oxford and those of the Schools Examination Syndicate of the University of Cambridge met at the Langham Hotel in London and signed an Article of Agreement.
OCSEB was empowered to conduct examinations, nominate examiners, grant certificates, and inspect schools. It was composed of Delegates from Oxford University and Syndics from Cambridge University. Each side appointed a Secretary to administer OCSEB's affairs.
The role of the Secretary developed substantially in the middle of the twentieth century, which reflected the development of the Board itself as it saw a huge increase in the numbers of candidates who were being entered for their examinations. The early Secretaries on both the Oxford and Cambridge sides were mostly part-time academics, for whom the Board was not their first priority. However, the appointment in 1944 of A.E.E. McKenzie in Cambridge, and that in 1947 of G.J.R. Potter in Oxford, both of whom were schoolteachers, marked the realisation by both sides that the Board required full-time professionals to run the administration effectively.
OCSEB administered their own 'local' examinations until 1918 when national school examinations the School Certificate (SC) and Higher School Certificate (HSC) - were introduced, designed to produce evidence of general educational achievement. However, the examinations were still set and marked, and the certificates awarded by examination boards, including OCSEB.
From 1918 OCSEB offered examinations at three levels:
1. School Certificate - a test of general education for pupils of about 16 - introduced in 1905;
2. Higher Certificate - taken two years later as a test 'of some main branch of study along with subsidiary subjects';
3. Lower Certificate - designed to give exemption from the preliminary requirements of bodies such as the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. Introduced in 1887, it lasted until 1939.
During the Second World War OCSEB cancelled its meetings for four years (rescinded in 1944), although the Delegacy and Syndicate continued to meet separately.
Both the SC and HSC were 'group' examinations, i.e. to obtain a certificate a required standard had to be attained in a minimum number of subjects. A criticism of these group examinations was that a significant number of candidates who failed the examination did so because of only one subject and this led to the abandonment of group examinations in favour of the 'subject' examinations: The SC and HSC were replaced in 1951 with the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level and GCE Advanced Level respectively.
In 1985 OCSEB formed a partnership with two GCE boards: Southern Universities Joint Board for School Examinations (SUJB) and University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES), and two CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) boards: East Midlands Regional Examination Board (EMREB) and The West Midlands Examination Board (TWMEB) to form the Midland Examining Group (MEG) for the sole purpose of conducting the new General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) introduced in 1988.
A rationalisation of the School Examination operations offered by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge saw the merger of OCSEB, UCLES and University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations (UODLE) into a new body entitled the Oxford and Cambridge Examinations and Assessment Council (OCEAC) on 1 April 1995 which administered A Level Examinations.
OCSEB merged with UCLES in 1995 and, papers were divided between Cambridge University Library and the emerging UCLES Archive. UCLES became the umbrella organisation for Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations, Cambridge International Examinations and Cambridge for Speakers of Other Languages in 1998 and in 2005 UCLES rebranded as Cambridge Assessment. Owing to the diverse provenance of the papers and the lack of an inherent filing system, an artificial order or arrangement has been imposed on this archive which represents the deposit made to UCLES in 1995.
Much of the material appears to be files created first by A.E.E. McKenzie and then added to by H.F. King in their role of Cambridge Syndicate Secretary.
The records held at Cambridge Assessment Archives chiefly represent those of the Cambridge side of the Board, principally from the 1940s onwards. Earlier records of OCSEB are held at Cambridge University Archives. Such records of the Oxford side as exist are held at the University of Oxford Archives.