Director stands in during Edexcel head's absence. Steve Hook and Ngaio Crequer report
SPECULATION surrounds the future of the chief executive of troubled exam body Edexcel amidst increasing discontent over its performance in this summer's exams.
The present incumbent, Tina Townsend, is on leave and the company is unable to say when or whether she will return to her desk.
The company has told staff in a memorandum that John Kerr, qualifications and assessment director, has stepped in as acting chief executive.
An insider in the company said Edexcel had not sacked Ms Townsend from the post and talks on her future would be finalised "in a matter of weeks".
News of her possible departure follows what schools and colleges have described as a fiasco over the handling of this year's exam results. It is widely regarded as far worse than the delays experienced last year, when Ms Townsend came in for considerable criticism.
"Discussions are proceeding with the chief executive and it is anticipated they will lead to a settlement," said the source. "There are issues that need to be addressed to do with internal management issues."
Mr Kerr has been a director of the Edexcel Foundation since March 13, 1999. Ms Townsend was appointed on December 4, 1996. Both refused to comment as The TES went to press.
"He is acting chief executive and this is normal procedure when she is away," said an Edexcel spokeswoman. "She is still chief executive."
Beryl Jeffrey, Edexcel's head of external relations, refused to comment on whether Ms Townsend was expected to return to work, but said any suggestion that she would leave her job is "unsubstantiated speculation".
Most of the more serious problems were connected with Edexcel exams, said a spokeswoman for the Association of Colleges, who added that colleges experienced "poor communications from Edexcel in response to colleges' concerns".
"There have been serious shortcomings on the part of Edexcel on a national level," she said. "The problems reported by colleges, as shown by the survey returns so far, indicate that they are very largely with Edexcel." Some of the problems were that "examination results went out up to three weeks late", "in a few cases, the withdrawal of results already received by candidates" and "documentation and supporting systems which have created confusion". The problems will be discussed by the Association of College Management's education committee on September 28 and 29, when, as revealed in FE Focus (September 7), options will include the possibility of the sector forming its own exam board or lobbying ministers for a guarantee that things will go more smoothly next year.
Problems are still being experienced around the country with this year's results from Edexcel, which is responsible for up to 90 per cent of the marking in some colleges.
South East Essex College was this week still waiting for 150 results for vocational qualifications.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is due to publish a quality audit report on Edexcel towards the end of the year as part of its routine monitoring process.