Pearson (Edexcel) increase security and slash postage costs using PDF commenting and workflow



Every year, more than two million people study for their GCE, GCSE, A Level or vocational qualifications. Edexcel works closely with its customers, helping them deliver high quality education and training programmes to their students. Formed in 1996, Edexcel was the first body to offer both academic and vocational qualifications.

Edexcel utilises the services of around 400 contracted principal examiners, who devise and review assessment papers covering every subject on the UK secondary and higher school curriculum. These examiners are mainly full-time, part-time or retired teaching professionals living in disparate locations across the UK.

In addition to the principal examiners responsible for drafting the questions and answers for each examination paper, a collaborative review process involves up to ten other teaching professionals. The entire drafting and review process has traditionally been conducted and coordinated through a combination of face-to-face meetings and the posting of hard-copy material.

GCE, GCSE and A Level examination papers take a significant period of time to complete because every paper is meticulously reviewed to ensure each exam is a fair and accurate test of the course content.

Mekon solution for Edexcel

Typically, Edexcel has around 1,400 examination papers at various stages of production-from drafting to printing-at any given time. The manual, hard copy process made it very difficult for Edexcel’s management teams to accurately chart the progress of all of these papers simultaneously. Furthermore, the ad hoc management environment that resulted from this lack of operational transparency made it extremely difficult for the company to forecast artwork, printing and delivery schedules.

Due to the highly sensitive nature of its business, Edexcel’s entire reputation is staked on its ability to guarantee document security. If a single hard-copy examination pack is either lost in the post or misplaced, the company’s steadfast policy is to cancel the entire exam paper.

Key Issues

  •    Highly distributed workforce
  •    Extensive collaborative review process
  •    Long document development lifecycle
  •    Scalability of project management
  •    Security issues

Solution Description

Edexcel asked Adobe and its strategic partner Mekon to create an electronic workflow solution to control the exam paper production process.  ‘Edexcel is using Adobe software in an intelligent way to empower all in-house and freelance staff to take control and ownership of their required actions,’ said Aletha Humphreys, Question Paper Unit (QPU) manager at Edexcel.

The first phase of any Mekon project is to gain a total understanding of a customer’s business, so that solutions are perfectly tailored to the individual client’s needs. With Edexcel the process started with a comprehensive consultancy project, involving a complete review of every stage of exam paper production. The review revealed that each paper went through ten key stages of production and a total of 140 separate steps as it was drafted, reviewed and prepared for printing.

Pivotal to the success of the project was to provide reporting mechanisms that include standard reports and complete drill-down functionality. The Question Paper Unit (QPU) at Edexcel was also very interested in implementing soft-copy transfer and reviewing of documents to reduce both postage costs and turnaround time within each stage of the process.

Another department within Edexcel was inspired by the Adobe/Mekon solution. The Qualifications Development Department (QDD) is responsible for the creation and maintenance of overall specifications in accordance the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Principal examiners use these specifications to create exam papers.

The QDD decided to review the examination specifications process. Driven by the need to prove strict adhesion to its quality procedures in order to obtain ‘self certification’ status from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the QDD was specifically interested in the workflow aspect to ensure key milestone dates weren’t missed.

When Mekon evaluated Edexcel’s core business processes, it found QDD’s five-stage process for drafting specifications mirrored many of the workflow imperatives present within the QPU’s ten-stage process.

Adobe Workflow Server and Adobe Workflow Designer software was implemented, running on two dedicated servers, within the QDD and QPU allowing Principal Examiners to log on to the workflow server and update records of completed tasks. Once each task is completed, an automatic alert is triggered to notify the next person in the process that the document is ready for their input.

Mekon Notus, developed to sit alongside Adobe’s Intelligent Document Platform, provides document review, content management, library and management reporting. Documents are stored in the content management system and viewed in the Library subject to specific permissions so that, for example, a Geography examiner would not be able to view an English paper. Edexcel also now uses Adobe Acrobat across the enterprise.

Content had to be protected from unauthorised access to protect the confidentiality of the exam papers until the day students take their exams. Originally, exam papers were posted between the QPU and the principal examiners. The new process required a comparable or better level of security. This was achieved by implementing user verification and passwords controlled via Mekon Notus.

‘We fully expect the workflow engines to generate a discernible reduction in the time it currently takes to produce new examination papers, making Edexcel far more responsive to customers’ needs.’ Humphries said.

The next phase of the project involves the creation and delivery of an online XML-based authoring tool. As before security-critical documents will be authored and stored electronically. Automatic encryption will be provided for locally saved data and all data sent over a VPN (virtual private network) will also be encrypted to ensure information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

‘The team from Mekon had a great customer focus. They quickly understood our business processes & needs and worked collaboratively & flexibly to overcome issues during the project lifecyle.’ – Fiona Hayward, Project Delivery Manager, Edexcel.


  • Managed workflow enabling faster question paper production
  • Secure online PDF commenting
  • Business reporting
  • Reduced postage costs