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More GCSEs to be taken on-screen

A five-year plan to increase the number of high-stakes exams taken at the computer screen is to be unveiled by the Government's qualifications regulator next week.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will invite exam boards to come up with new GCSEs which will give pupils the option of sitting papers electronically.

As The TES revealed last month, ministers want modules of most GCSEs to be offered to pupils on-screen by 2010, with some which can be taken completely electronically.

Candidates would always have the choice of a traditional pen-and-paper exam, however. Electronic exams would be taken in school or college to ensure the security of the tests. Pupils would not have internet access.

The QCA, which is already launching an on-screen key stage 3 information and communication technology test nationally in 2006, is also investigating running national curriculum science tests on-screen.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, asked the QCA to come up with the plan last year and will speak at the London conference on Tuesday.

Exam boards have been working on on-screen tests for years and have been waiting for the QCA to indicate that it wants them to be offered for high-stakes exams.

Some subjects, such as maths, science and modern languages, are thought to be more suitable for on-screen examination than others.

The QCA is keen to encourage the boards to use technology to provide new types of assessment. For example, pupils might be able to carry out virtual science experiments as part of their exam.

In subjects centred on essay-writing, such as history and English, e-assessment may be less appropriate, the authority believes.

Earlier this month, QCA chief executive Ken Boston endorsed the new technology, saying that it would transform examining to the extent that people would be able to take an exam in the pub with their pint.

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