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Unfair attack on exam board

IN an effort to justify a long-running campaign against Northern Ireland's CCEA exam board, James Nicholson lists what he feels is damning evidence against us ("Edexcel not a patch on CCEA", TES, February 1).

CCEA has had its problems. Some of these are chronicled in Mr Nicholson's letter, though somewhat inaccurately.

Mr Nicholson makes specific reference to home economics. We were hugely disappointed with the issue of some 800 incorrect grades last August. This was not an error or mistake, but appears to have been caused by a breach of computer security. This matter has been well publicised in Northern Ireland.

However, as soon as the problem was identified all parties were informed immediately and the correct information sent to schools within 24 hours of the issue of results. From that one incident we have produced more than 30 recommendations for improvement, all of which are in the public domain on our website - www.ccea.org.uk - and all of which have been communicated to schools and colleges in Northern Ireland.

We have been widely praised for the open and honest way in which we have dealt with this matter.

It is also alleged that we have refused to deal with issues relating to past A-level mathematics questions. As Mr Nicholson knows, this is rubbish.

Some years ago CCEA commissioned an independent report into this issue. The recommendations contained in that report have been implemented in full.

Over the past three years my staff have worked tirelessly to improve our procedures, to improve the quality of service we give to Northern Ireland's schools and to grind errors out of our examinations processing.

To this end we embarked on and achieved, in May 1999, the internationally recognised quality award ISO 9001. To my knowledge we are the only organisation of our kind in the UK to hold this award.

Since the introduction of the annual benchmarking of exam boards'

post-results services to schools, CCEA has been the only board to meet and in some cases exceed all the performance targets set by Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Finally, you and your readers might be interested to know that, despite his long list of concerns about our organisation, Mr Nicholson, a maths teacher, still chooses to take his examinations with - you've guessed it - CCEA.

Gavin Boyd Chief executive, CCEA 29 Clarendon Road, Belfast

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