Three of the biggest exam boards, accounting for more than 50 per cent of A-level, GCSE and workplace exams, have announced plans for a new coalition.
A powerful unitary exam board will be formed from the giant Northern Examinations and Assessment Board, the Associated Examining Board and City Guilds. The move is intended to meet the Government's demand for a slimmed down exam system.
The three boards have this week published details of a plan for joint working. At present the boards are not merging fully and will continue to operate separate syllabuses, but entry procedures will be centralised.
There are currently four A-level boards: the NEAB, the Southern Examining Group (part of the AEB), Edexcel (a combination of what was formerly known as BTEC and the University of London board) and the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.
Earlier this year Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard announced that she wanted to reduce the total. Most observers believe she will be happy with three boards, having already ruled out the possibility of one national board, apparently favoured by some Labour party thinkers.
The reduction is aimed at greater comparability of standards between boards and between standards year-on-year. It would, in theory, help prevent examination boards offering deliberately easy exams in order to drum up custom from schools.
The Government and its exams agency, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, also want to cut the number of syllabuses offered.
The boards have been told they can offer only one syllabus for each of the major subjects (attracting more than 15,000 entrants) plus one "distinctively different" syllabus.
The NEAB and the AEB currently examine 57.6 per cent of the UK's GCSE examination entries and 52.5 of the UK's A-level examination entries. City Guilds awards 52 per cent of national vocational qualifications (taken in the workplace) and 19 per cent of the classroom-orientated general national vocational qualifications.