Exam boards are fielding complaints about too many A and AS-levels being set on the same day, reports Martin Whittaker
Colleges face an accommodation squeeze during this year's exams because of clashes between A-levels and AS-levels.
Exam boards have timetabled some upper and lower sixth exams at the same time in an overlap between the current and the remodelled A and AS-levels.
The clash will hit smaller colleges and schools, taking up classroom space and bringing a need for extra invigilators.
Cirencester College in Gloucestershire, for example, is offering 43 subjects at AS-level. On one morning next June it must find space for 471 students to sit both AS-and A-levels.
Principal Nigel Robbins estimated that the college would have to use between 15 and 20 extra classrooms and triple the number of invigilators needed in previous years.
He is complaining about the clash to the exam boards OCR, AQA and Edexcel. "We might be able to accommodate everybody but we can only do so in an extraordinarily difficult and expensive fashion," he said.
"I don't think the examining bodies have done their arithmetic right. Small schools that suddenly find they have to timetable first and second years together for exams, plus all the other GCSE exams, are going to find it impossible."
Knowsley College on Merseyside is expecting similar problems. Frank Gill, assistant principal, said there could be 250 students sitting exams on the same day.
"The capacity in our sports hall is 150, so we've got 100 students to cater for elsewhere," he said. "So you're probably talking about six classrooms in addition to a sports hall, with six classes being cancelled or rearranged." He said finding accommodation outside college was a last resort. "I think people are nervous enough without trying to shove them off somewhere else for an exam."
Sir George Monoux sixth-form college in Walthamstow,London, is also bracing itself for the squeeze. It has 1,200 students sitting exams this summer.
"We could not have foreseen two different exams going on at the same time," said deputy principal John McMinn. "It will be too much lost teaching at a very crucial time."
Yeovil College in Somerset has a large mobile classroom which is exclusively used as an exam centre, seating 120, in a bid to ease its accommodation problems.
"If we hadn't kept this exam centre I'm not sure we could cope," said principal Richard Atkins. "It does mean that we take the sports centre and the main hall completely out of commission during a normal teaching week. And it's a great shame, particularly with the sports centre."
John Graystone, regional director of the Association of Colleges South West, said: "There's still plenty of time for people to talk together to make sure this problem is solved. Otherwise it won't make sense to have these clashes between exams. I hope common sense will prevail."
Richard Fawcett, president of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Exam boards do need to be mindful of running exams where there are large numbers of candidates at the same time."
A spokesman for the Joint Council for General Qualifications said the situation in the summer 2001 was a "one-off problem" because of the overlap between old and new qualifications.
He said it was most likely to affect subjects such as general studies and history with a big entry of Year 13 students, along with a full entry of AS-level students.
"The awarding bodies recognise that the exceptional circumstances arising in summer 2001 could cause difficulties for particular centres on particular days," he said.
"Examinations officers are urged to study the timetables and identify any problems likely to arise in their centres and contact the awarding bodies or bodies concerned for advice."
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