Exam board chief warns of loss of public trust in system

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The Independent Online

The head of one of the country's biggest exam boards warned yesterday of a loss of public trust in exams.

Schools were under pressure to put pupils in for exams which would earn precious points in league tables rather than choose what was best for the students, Greg Watson, chief executive of the Oxford, Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts (OCR) exam board, said yesterday. As a result, too many pupils were taking A-levels who could more usefully be taking an alternative qualification, he said.

In addition, schools were putting pressure on pupils to take the Government's flagship new diplomas. He told a conference in London on testing that there was "uncertainty" in the public's mind over whether the exam system was performing the right role.

"I don't think the public believes it is all terrible," he said, "but there is uncertainty in the public's view whether the assessment system is doing what we hope and is sound."

He said of A-levels after his speech: "A-levels started as a qualification which was geared towards selecting people for university. I think to some extent that role is compromised."

He added: "Teachers are going to lose their pay rises if their results are wrong. Therefore that tends to drive them towards qualifications with quantifiable data which can earn extra points rather than something which stretches what a pupil can do."

Sue Kirkham, the former president of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents secondary school heads, added that schools were spending far more on putting pupils in for exams to ensure good results than they were on books and equipment.

"They feel there is far too much testing and examination," she added. "Our members' jobs are on the line. If their school is judged inadequate, they will lose their jobs – that's what happens."

Mr Watson and Ms Kirkham were speaking as new government figures confirmed around only 11,000 pupils had opted for the diploma in its first year of operation. The original government target had been 40,000. As a result of the low take-up, the cost of offering a pupil a diploma was far higher than A-levels, according to figures released by the Conservatives.

However, the Schools minister Iain Wright said it was "very early days" for the diplomas. He added, "We are determined to ensure that our young people are able to acquire the skills and knowledge they need for the 21st century, and the diploma does that."

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