Board apologises for exam farrago

Warwick Mansell

An exam board has issued a mea culpa over its botched attempt to withdraw the only A-level in ancient history earlier this year.

In what almost amounts to an apology to teachers, OCR said complaints had arrived by the sackload. It admitted: "There is no point pretending that OCR didn't get it wrong over ancient history."

The statement came in an article in the latest edition of the Journal of Classical Teaching by Paul Steer, the board's director of stakeholder relations.

OCR was forced to change its mind after The TES revealed its plans in March. A vigorous campaign of petitioning and letter-writing by teachers and academics ensued, culminating in a rally outside Parliament in which Boris Johnson MP led the protests while draped in a toga.

In the article, Mr Steer said: "When OCR published its new draft A-level classics suite without a named ancient history route, there was an almost instant reaction.

"The phone calls and the emails started to pour in, and soon eight-page letters with multiple signatures were arriving in sacks.

"Before I knew it, there was an e-petition to Downing Street, parliamentary debates in both houses, and Private Eye and The TES were waiting to speak to us.

"I knew it was getting serious when News at Ten broadcast pictures of Boris Johnson marching on Parliament Square, clad in a toga."

Mr Steer wrote that it was always going to be difficult to create a new set of classics courses.

The original plan had been to incorporate ancient history into classical civilisation. But problems were compounded by a lack of openness from the board, and it looked as if a conspiracy was afoot when the proposed new syllabuses came out.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, told a QCA board meeting in May that the regulator received a "large amount of correspondence" against OCR's original plans. He expressed concern that it had no powers to force boards to offer minority subjects, adding that this was a weakness in the regulatory system.

The board is now working with the Joint Association of Classical Teachers which opposed its original plans to produce a new ancient history specification for 2008.

In a statement, OCR and JACT said this was progressing well. A draft specification is now available on OCR's website.

It has four units, all of which are compulsory. One AS module each on Greek and Roman history from original sources will be followed by A2 units divided along similar lines.

Peter Jones, founder of the Friends of the Classics group, said: "It is rare for a board openly to admit that it got things wrong in such a refreshing and candid way.

"This bodes well for future relations between exam boards and subject bodies."

* www.ocr.org.uk

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Warwick Mansell

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