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Further A-level chaos predicted

Teachers fear that delays in exam standard guidance will lead to more trouble next year. Julie Henry reports.

TEACHERS will have to wait until the end of November for the standard of the reformed A-level to be defined - a month later than the Tomlinson report recommended.

The delay of the publication of guidance outlining the degrees of difficulty of the AS and A2 will come too late to help teachers preparing for the January exams.

This adds to fears about the smooth running of the 2003 exams, expressed this week by the head of the Government's exam watchdog.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said the January and June sittings could be riddled with strife because the exam system is stretched to the limit.

This year's re-grading problem was of less concern than the enormous logistical task of marking 24 million scripts with a shortage of examiners. Giving evidence to the Commons education select committee, Mr Boston said that the new A2, the second half of the A-level, should not be regarded as at a higher standard than A-level.

He said: "We now have an 'easier' exam at the end of the first year and a 'harder' exam at the end of the second year. I don't believe the A2 is pitched half way between an A-level and the first year of a degree."

His view contradicts Ron McLone, chief executive of OCR, the exam board at the centre of the A-level fiasco. He has maintained that A2 is tougher than the traditional A-level and justified last-minute grade boundary movements on this basis.

The disagreement between the men will further confuse teachers who are still waiting for standards to be defined.

A QCA spokewoman said it was better to get them right and have agreement across the board rather than rush through half-baked information.

Mr Boston told the committee that the QCA could use its new powers to ban late exam entries because they were making the system unmanageable. Last-minute and "pirate" entries, where pupils turn up on the day to sit papers they are not registered for, have become a serious problem. Last year Edexcel had to deal with half a million such entries.

In the long term, technology has to be used to improve marking and the delivery of results, according to Mr Boston. "We are running a 21st-century education system as a huge cottage industry," he said.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke told a meeting of headteachers in Oxford this week that he would take action "rapidly and effectively" to recruit sufficient examiners to support the system.

He said: "I will await Mike Tomlinson's second report with great interest, together with the profession and I will take the necessary steps to implement his recommendations, whatever they may be."

Earlier, in an interview with The TES, Mr Clarke said he did not think there was a "mountain to climb" in restoring confidence in the exams.

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