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Lack of support blamed for fiasco

A-level marking crisis was caused by sloppy government reforms, says inquiry. Warwick Mansell reports.

EXAM boards were not given enough support by the Government and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in implementing reforms that led to last year's A-level fiasco, ministers were told yesterday.

Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector, who led the inquiry into the re-grading controversy , said a lack of co-ordination in planning for Curriculum 2000, which launched the AS, lay behind last autumn's crisis.

The examining boards had been left to assess how many papers were to be marked and how many examiners were needed, as well as ensuring that the examiners were of the right quality.

There should have been a more co-ordinated approach, with the QCA and the Department for Education and Skills providing support, said Mr Tomlinson, who is now investigating the feasibility of an English baccalaureate.

"The demands on the examiners and the number of examiners increased dramatically. I do not think this was fully appreciated (by the Government). One could say that it was left to the boards to try to sort it out," said Mr Tomlinson.

The former chief inspector, due to speak at a London conference on the future of A-levels after The TES had gone to press, said all parties involved were now addressing this problem.

The QCA was launching a communications drive with parents, universities and employers to ensure that the awarding process for both A and AS-levels was properly understood.

Mr Tomlinson said he is to make a series of inspection visits next month to the examining boards to monitor the awarding of grades following this month's exams.

Last year, OCR board chief executive Ron McLone ordered last-minute changes to grade boundaries in some subjects. A new code of practice, being launched by the QCA, aims to prevent this happening again.

Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of schools in Scotland, was expected to compare last year's problems with difficulties north of the border in 2000, when thousands of students were given wrong results following the launch of new Higher Still exams.

The QCA's new communications drive included this week a mailing to schools giving a description of AS and A-level standards.

Later this month, exemplification material of work at particular levels will be sent to examiners to use in the awarding process. This addresses concerns that there was confusion last year over the standard students needed to achieve to get a particular grade.

Curriculum 2000 and the A-level inquiry can be accessed at: www.qca.org.ukca14-1916-19

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