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Let industry mark exams

Head of the QCA wants employers to be more involved in work-related courses, Warwick Mansell reports.

THE head of the exams watchdog today launched a campaign to give employers control over setting and marking work-related GCSEs and A-levels.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said industry-trained assessors should mark coursework. Employers should also have a greater input into establishing assessment standards.

Writing in The TES, Dr Boston also controversially calls for more courses to be modular, and for much of the content of "industry-driven" qualifications to be assessed through "performance of tasks" rather than written exams.

But businesses questioned whether employers had sufficient time. Susan Anderson, of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "Employers' first priority will always be running their businesses and they will only ever be able to help a limited number of young people."

However, Ruth Lea, head of policy at the Institute of Directors, welcomed the suggestion, arguing that larger firms should "jump at the chance" to get involved.

The move comes after school standards minister David Miliband last month set out the Government's vision to increase the work-related options available to pupils at 14. Dr Boston says that Mr Miliband crossed the Rubicon in ditching the terms "academic" and "vocational" in favour of talking about a range of subjects in which any student could specialise.

Dr Boston said all these subjects, for example geology, web design, cabinet making and Latin, had value. But there was need for "comparablity of standards" between them.

Just as universities were involved in setting university-driven specialist subjects, so those more related to industry needed to be set by employers.

Controversially, he implies that standard-setting in such subjects should be exclusive to employers.

"For example, it is only specialist, practising and high-performing web designers who can advise on (a student's) level of achievement," he writes.

He said: "In England, we seem to have difficulty in accepting that in vocational education the setting of standards for 14 to 19-year-olds is a task for industry experts." Students' achievements against an "industry-driven" curriculum should be measured by industry-qualified assessors and verifiers, using methods appropriate to that industry, he added.

Industry bodies are already involved in setting standards for vocational GCSEs and A-levels, which were launched last year, but they do not have the dominant role that Dr Boston advocates.

Assessment by employers or lecturers with industrial backgrounds is commonplace for awards such as national vocational and City and Guilds qualifications, but not in GCSEs and A-levels.

Critics argue that since many students obtaining these vocationally-orientated qualifications will go to college or university before work, these bodies should play a key role.

Judith Norrington, director of curriculum at the Association of Colleges, said: "We have got to be clear that these qualifications are not just for the employer, but also for the wider education of the student."

There was good news for the drive to boost work-orientated learning this week with the release of unoffical figures showing that 200 schools have entered pupils for the new vocational engineering GCSE, a five-fold increase on the old GNVQ. There is also likely to be a new vocational GCSE in construction from next year.

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