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What's new about exam blunders?

Mistakes in examination papers are nothing new. What is startling about the Edexcel stories is that exam-board blunders are now so newsworthy that they compete with volcanoes and al Qaeda for column inches.

I have rarely come across a mistake to match the one in OCR's GCSE Spanish short course last year. There were only 10 questions in this examination paper. The mistake rendered five of the questions - the entire exercise - redundant.

Having spotted the mistake, I telephoned OCR immediately after the exam. A very apologetic letter duly arrived a few days later. "It is likely that the whole question shall not be marked as a result of the error," OCR said.

Which leads me to the question of what exam boards really mean when they give assurances, as OCR did, that "no candidate will be prejudiced by the misprint"? If they ignored the question entirely, then how could they ensure a fair spread of marks, when half of the paper was not included?

The OCR blunder did not even make the local press, never mind Radio 5 Live, BBC news and the tabloids. We can probably trace the media's interest in exam boards to the debacle over the Scottish exam results last year. It is a sign of how intensely the spotlight has fallen on education that the Edexcel story is now front-page news.

Paul Johnston Head of modern languages Trinity School, Northampton

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