A-levels fiasco could delay school reforms

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The Independent Online

Crucial government reforms to secondary education could be delayed as a result of the A-level marking fiasco.

Crucial government reforms to secondary education could be delayed as a result of the A-level marking fiasco.

Ministers have been consulting on proposals for a shake-up of education for 14- to 19-year-olds since the beginning of the year. But senior officials at the Department for Education and Skills now say it is likely they will want to consider the second stage of the Tomlinson inquiry into this year's A-level grades before deciding on the future of post-16 schooling.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "The lessons of the last few weeks are that it is better to get it right than do it quickly." He was speaking as examiners prepared to start regrading checks on more than 90,000 A-level scripts tomorrow.

The scale of the crisis has highlighted deep divisions at the heart of the Oxford Cambridge and RSA board. In 74 exam units covering 18 subjects, chief examiners disagreed with the grade boundaries set by Dr Ron McLone, OCR's chief executive. Headteachers' organisations have said many schools may switch boards as a result.

The saga has reinforced ministers' desire to adopt a two-tiered approach to reform. The first stage, which could be announced quickly, would be to reform the key stage four of the national curriculum – studied by 14- to 16-year-olds. Controversially, some subjects, such as modern foreign languages, would be declared voluntary, although ministers plan to make languages more widely available in primary schools.

The drive towards more vocational GCSEs in subjects as diverse as engineering and health care will also be confirmed, with more 14-year-olds being allowed to study at college instead of school. But plans for a new matriculation diploma for all 19-year-olds will be rethought as part of the second stage of the reforms.

Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector heading the independent inquiry into A-levels, will rule in November on the fate of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, and on whether the standards of the post-16 new examination system (of AS-levels followed by A2 units) match those of the old A-levels.

Meanwhile, examiners will tomorrow begin checking the grades of 91,545 candidates who sat OCR exams, 29 per cent of the total. Regrading checks being carried out by other boards are minimal, however, with Edexcel saying just 164 students sitting French and Spanish exams are affected. The third board, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, is confident its grade awards will stand.

Teachers' leaders have described the final figures for regrading checks as "far greater than most parents, teachers and students imagined possible". If the checks lead to grades being increased, it could cause chaos for university admissions.