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Old-style exams stay put

Schools play safe over assessment of 'world-class tests'. Julie Henry reports

SCHOOLS have rejected the chance to break new ground in the assessment of Britain's brightest teenagers.

New tests for high-flying sixth-formers, called advanced extension awards, were supposed to explore innovative ways of judging pupils through practical work, projects and exams where students are given the questions in advance.

But in a survey by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, more than 90 per cent of schools piloting the awards said they wanted conventional exams because other types of assessment heaped additional work on overstretched students and teachers.

Nearly 1,000 students have been piloting the "world-class tests" which will be available in 17 subjects from 2002.

The QCA was hoping to tailor assessment to each subject but most of the 68 schools and colleges that took part said they wanted closed examinations.

"Schools and colleges were reluctant to enter candidates for a more open-ended assessment. We intended to provide a more innovative approach but scools did not want an exam which needed additional preparatory work," the survey says.

The awards, aimed at the top 10 per cent of pupils, are not supposed to require extra teaching or interfere with students' A-level studies.

But the QCA said there was concern that the awards would become the preserve of private schools which have the facilities and resources to prepare students. Nearly a third of schools said they were not intending to offer the tests, in a survey by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service last year.

A QCA spokesman said the authority was working with Government officials on a strategy to promote the awards.

One of the tests on offer will be critical thinking where pupils will be expected to apply their general knowledge.

Further trials in seven subjects will run in 2001. As students in America, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore will also take part, it will be possible to compare British students' performance with the best of the rest.

World-class tests will be available for nine and 13-year-olds from this September.

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