Tarnish wiped from exam gold standard

24th January 1997 at 00:00
A-level standards continue to be high after all, says the Office for Standards in Education despite the very public doubts of its boss, HM Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead.

A report due out soon on A and AS-level exam standards applauds the rigour of the so-called gold standard qualifications and concludes that, for the past three years at least, standards have been maintained.

Delighted examination chiefs have been told that "for almost all subjects the organisation and evaluation were thorough and the assessment procedures were reliable".

A range of A-level syllabuses taken from different exam boards proved to be comparable both among themselves and over time.

However, the report will add to the recent fierce criticism of the Oxford and Cambridge board's handling of A-level English exams. A report from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority earlier this month accused the board of giving "unjustified and unsupported" high grades to candidates, most from public schools.

But the overall tone of the new OFSTED study - which a senior education official described as "positive" - is difficult to square with the downbeat Standards Over Time report published last month by OFSTED and SCAA.

This report led Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard to call for a drastic reduction in the number of A-level syllabuses and for fewer competing exam boards to prevent grade inflation. She has also backed the introduction of more traditional A-level English and maths exams.

Earlier in the year Sir Ron Dearing's review of 16 to 19 qualifications concluded that the plethora of boards and syllabuses was undermining confidence in A-levels. In English, maths and science, there are 250 different A and AS-level syllabuses.

HM Chief Inspector, Mr Woodhead, has criticised changes in public examinations which, he believes, show that attention has shifted from academic basics.

Publication of the Standards Over Time report was delayed as OFSTED argued for a comparatively critical interpretation of the evidence.

The positive tone of the new report will be useful grist to Mrs Shephard's mill. The Education Secretary is expected to promote the findings as encouraging news in the run-up to the election.

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