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QCA set to review targets and tests

England's qualifications regulator is to launch a major review of the impact of tests and exams, amid teachers' concerns that too much emphasis on results may be damaging learning.

Mick Waters, the new director of curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, is leading the investigation into the future of assessment policy.

The review was described as an issue of "key strategic importance" for the QCA at its meeting in May, in minutes released this week.

QCA board members said assessment "should support scholarship and creativity; it should not restrict learning". This is seen as a signal to ministers to allow schools to be less test-driven.

Last week, Mr Waters gave a presentation to the board suggesting England's assessment regime is more intensive than in almost any other country.

The TES understands that the year-long review will look at whether there is an over-emphasis on assessment data. Board members are concerned that schools are working toward test results as ends in themselves.

Other minutes released this week reveal that Ken Boston, QCA's chief executive, received pound;134,828 in benefits last year, including pound;31,106 in tax paid by the quango and return flights to Sydney. It also paid the rent on the Australian's London property, the accounts show.

His overall package - including pound;145,000-pound;150,000 in salary - was pound;279,828 to pound;284,828.

However, the accounts do not reveal whether Johnathan Ford, the former managing director of the National Assessment Agency, received a pay-off after resigning following last year's key stage 3 English fiasco.

The QCA said that Mr Ford had requested that details of his salary be omitted from the accounts, which was his right according to Treasury guidelines.

It is also revealed this week that the QCA started the financial year unsure how much its budget would be. Ministers signalled a tightening of purse strings in light of a multi-million-pound reform of the exams system.

Dr Boston told the March meeting he was concerned the authority was a "matter of days away" from its new budget period without having the funding to meet tasks required of it by ministers.

The minutes suggest that in March, the QCA had only received a commitment from the Department for Education and Skills to provide core funding of pound;59 million in 2005-06.

The authority's overall budget for 2004-05 was pound;129m, of which Pounds 117m came from the DfES, its accounts reveal. It spent pound;70m, or two-thirds of its non-staff costs, on the test and exam system.

The budget increased by 40 per cent last year, from pound;92m in 2003-04, after ministers ploughed millions into attempts to improve exam administration by creating the National Assessment Agency, a new division of the QCA.

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