Board takeover under fire

16th May 2003 at 01:00
Rival exam group says Edexcel deal involving media group Pearson is 'inappropriate'. Warwick Mansell reports

BRITAIN's biggest exam board has criticised the takeover of one of its rivals by the media giant Pearson, revealing that it rejected a similar approach two years ago.

The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, which processes around half of the exam entries for England's schools, said it was "not appropriate" to have a commercial company providing qualifications.

Last week, The TES reported how Pearson, the international publishing group, had taken over the Edexcel board in a pound;20 million deal which will involve the company in ploughing millions of pounds into computerising the exam system.

Edexcel views the move as the best way to bring in investment needed to update a creaking system, but the deal has been criticised for potentially bringing commercial forces into the exams system.

Discussions between the two parties had been going on since John Kerr's arrival as Edexcel chief executive following a series of exam blunders at the board in 2001.

But AQA was approached even before that by the Pearson group, said George Turnbull, head of public affairs at the board. He said: "We took the view that the board was set up to provide a service to schools and colleges, and that it would not be appropriate to have a commercial company in control.

"It is our centenary this year, and we were built on the concept of providing a service to schools and colleges, to provide examinations at as low a price as we can. We do not see ourselves as in a business to make money.

"We do try to do so, obviously, but our function is to provide this public service to schools and colleges. That is why we are registered as a charity. It is quite a different step to be a commercial company."

The third exam board, OCR, was also approached by the NCS group, but rejected a similar takeover bid, The TES understands.

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