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A-level exams face squeeze

New modular tests mean sixth-form colleges could run out of room for candidates, reports Sarah Cassidy.

Large sixth-form colleges may struggle to cope with this summer's A-levels because popular exams for students in the upper and lower sixth have been scheduled for the same day.

Colleges say they will be short of desks, classroom space and invigilators because some exams with the biggest entries, such as English and maths, are scheduled to clash.

Principals are drawing up plans to buy or rent hundreds of desks, and are considering hiring halls and invigilators to cope with more than double their usual number of candidates.

Schools and colleges had anticipated difficulties this summer as they ran old style A-levels alongside new-look modular exams for the first time.

Under the reforms, introduced in September, students are encouraged to study more subjects and to take exams throughout the course. Whereas, in traditional A-levels papers were taken at the end of a two-year course, under the new arrangements most sixthformers will sit half their exams at the end of the first year.

Simon Kitchener, principal of Luton sixth-form college, said: "We are going to be very short of desks. We have 700 but will need around 1,200 on the busiest days. We will also need more invigilators. Our bill for invigilation is usually pound;10,000 butmy estimate is that it will be twice that this year."

Lorna Young, examination officer at Colchester sixth-form college, said:

"We will need to buy an extra 550 desks at a cost of around pound;6,000.

"We are considering hiring larger accommodation for the busiest two weeks, but the local university and further education college also have exams at that time."

Meanwhile, headteachers' leaders have called for schools to get their share of pound;60 million set aside to fund post-16 curriculum reforms.

The money, worth an extra pound;278 per sixth-former, has been added to council budgets to help pay for the staffing and training needed for the new, broader sixth-form curriculum.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, wrote to Education Secretary David Blunkett this week urging him to ensure that councils pass the money on to schools.

Mr Hart said: "I am already receiving reports that some local education authorities cannot be relied upon to allocate additional resources."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, has written to chief education officers urging them to pass on the money. "For the second year it seems that school sixth forms will not be properly funded for the curriculum 2000 reforms," he said.

Welsh funding, 23

Letters, FE Focus, 28

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