Edexcel not a patch on CCEA

It is right that there should be a furore over Edexcel's performance. However, it has a long way to go before it can compete with the record of the Northern Ireland exam board.

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment awarded incorrect grades to 800 GCSE home economics candidates this year, only two years after issuing 500 incorrect grades in three subjects.

In 1998 it issued incorrect history results where coursework was omitted from the total mark, and incorrect chemistry results because of an error in the mark scheme.

Biology pupils had to wait more than an hour for GCSE papers to be delivered; geography students found a map insert was not included for one of their examinations. It lost 250 maths scripts in one session; set an impossible question in another GCSE paper; notified universities of incorrect grades in another, resulting in some students losing places they were entitled to because the place had been re-allocated before the error came to light, while others had offers withdrawn once it became clear they did not have the grades needed.

All of the above has taken place in the past five years, and this is not even an exhaustive list.

The coup de grace however has undoubtedly been its performance in A-level maths and statistics. It has produced guidance acknowledging errors in questions which are so serious the board now recommends they are unsuitable for use in a classroom with a teacher to guide discussion - yet they were used live in examinations, and the board maintains that no candidate was ever disadvantaged.

It repeatedly allowed senior examiners to leave questions unchanged when advised of errors in advance, as part of the process of preparation of papers. This was particularly bizarre when the examiners were replacing other questions on the same papers as it accepted that those errors were so fundamental that the question could not even be altered to make it suitable.

So far the CCEA has steadfastedly refused all requests, even from the president of the Mathematical Association, as well as from other professional bodies, to hold a proper independent inquiry into how such things could have gone on for so long. How long would Edexcel survive with a track record like CCEA's?

James Nicholson Former assessor for CCEA 53 Dundela Avenue Belfast Northern Ireland

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