Lena started her career as a secondary teacher of English, before completing a doctorate in Feminist Literary Theory at the University of Strathclyde, where she also gained experience teaching and leading programmes of higher education.

Following that, Lena spent more than 20 years working for the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), latterly as Head of Policy, Assessment, Statistics and Standards. She was responsible for the organisation’s research, establishing policy, and introducing innovations to qualifications and assessment design. Lena’s role encompassed research into general as well as vocational qualifications, and brought her into contact with the UK regulators. She oversaw SQA’s programme of monitoring standards over time, and was responsible for its policies for quality assurance of internal and external assessment. Lena also played a major role in the review and development of learning, the curriculum and assessment at 3-18.

Lena is currently Director of Research and Analysis at AQA, England’s largest GCSE and A-level exam board. She provides strategic direction to the Research and Development, Analytics and Data Science, Standards and Awarding, and Research Impact and Engagement Teams. She joined AQA in 2014 as Head of Research and since then has worked with the research, standards and analysis teams. The work includes collaboration with researchers outside AQA, and strategically engaging external stakeholders, so as to maximise the impact of AQA’s research work on the education and qualifications system.

Lena is currently working with Professor Jo-Anne Baird on a project entitled, ‘Setting and maintaining standards in national examinations’, which is a collaboration between OUCEA, AQA, Ofqual (the exams regulator), and the UCL Institution of Education. The first major output of the project was a three-day symposium at Brasenose College in 2017. This was one of the first occasions that experts had gathered together to share knowledge about the theories, policies and practices of standard setting and maintaining in their own senior school qualifications systems. The development of this knowledge community is a critical outcome of the project.

As part of the wider project, Dr Gray worked with Professor Baird on a knowledge exchange project that resulted in the publication of guidelines for specialists working in setting national examination standards. The guidelines aim to help assessment practitioners to be more transparent about the procedures they use and the challenges they face.
The project has also resulted in the publication of a major new book on standard setting, Exam standards: How measures and meanings differ around the world, which was launched at the 44th International Association for Educational Assessment conference in Oxford in September 2018.

The next stage of the project will be to work with the expanding knowledge community to produce a Special Issue of the journal Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice. Professor Baird and Dr Gray are currently working as Guest Editors of this special issue, which is due to be published in spring 2020.

Research interests

Examination standards
Assessment validity
Insider researchers

  • Baird, J., Isaacs, T., Opposs, D., & Gray, L. (Eds.) (2018). Exam standards: How measures and meanings differ around the world. London: IOE Press.
  • Gray, L. (2017) Overcoming political and organisational barriers to international practitioner collaboration on national examination research: Guidelines for insider researchers working in exam boards and other public organisations (Rep. No. OUCEA/17/2). Oxford: Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment.
  • Baird, J. & Gray, L. (2016) The meaning of curriculum-related examination standards in Scotland and England: a home–international comparison, Oxford Review of Education, 43 (2). 266-284.
  • Gray, L., Jackson, C., & Simmonds, L. (2015). Examining assessment. Manchester, UK: Centre for Education Research and Practice.