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9th May 2003 at 01:00
The A-level debacle cost a minister and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority chairman their jobs. The charitable exam boards proved less accountable. Last week's takeover of Edexcel by Pearson means that board will be held to account in future - but by the company's shareholders.

Schools have long bought-in commercial goods and services without it necessarily causing outcry. But exams are not just "inputs" like books or buildings. They are part of what defines the "outputs" of education. What, how, and why students learn are largely determined by syllabuses and assessments.

Pearson's takeover is said to provide the capital required for new online assessments. But do these have an educational purpose or a cost-effective business rationale? Are students to be tested on the skills and knowledge that create a better world or those which are easy to computerise in order to maximise profits? Questions the Government and its exam watchdog seem ready to shrug off.

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