Exam chief quits after deadlines criticism

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The Independent Online

The chief executive of one of the country's largest exam boards resigned yesterday, two days after the board was criticised over marking standards.

Christina Townsend, chief executive of Edexcel, announced her decision after the company was named as one of three boards reported by headteachers to have failed to meet deadlines for re-marking contested scripts. John Kerr, currently director of operations at Edexcel, has stepped in as acting chief executive.

In statements yesterday, neither Dr Townsend, who has been head of Edexcel for eight years, nor her employers made any mention of the controversy. However, she described her last year at the helm as "a particularly demanding one".

Dr Townsend made it clear the Government's decision to introduce the new AS-level had led to much of the increased pressure on exam boards. The introduction of the new AS-level exam had meant a 50 per cent increase in the number of scripts to be marked and a 30 per cent increase in the number of examiners, she said.

"I am conscious that challenges remain and they will be need to be addressed in going forward," Dr Townsend said. "The time has come for a new chief executive to be appointed to strengthen and build on that foundation and for me to seek a new challenge."

She will take a short holiday before deciding on her future.

Earlier this week, the Headmasters' Conference (HMC), which represents those at top independent boys' schools, warned there had been a substantial increase in the number of appeals against exam grades this summer. It added that there were cases involving all three of the major exam boards failing to meet the 30-day "fast-track" deadline for re-marking a script. This had meant some students' university places had been put in jeopardy.

Geoff Lucas, secretary of the HMC, said quality had been sacrificed in an attempt to make sure results were delivered on time.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said of Dr Townsend's decision to quit: "This reflects the pressure on exam boards to improve the quality of their performance, which has too often been unsatisfactory in recent years."

Edexcel was forced to admit earlier this year that thousands of sixth-formers taking the Government's new Basic Skills test had had their papers marked incorrectly.

As a result of an administrative error, 6,466 students who had been told they failed their communication and number skills test were eventually given a pass mark; but 3,705 students who were told they had passed a technology paper had to take it again. The exam board, formed in 1993 in a merger between Btec and London Examinations, was forced to write to all the students whose papers were wrongly marked to apologise and set up a hotline for students and parents to ring for advice.

In addition to the controversy over marking standards, some schools complained that A and AS-level results from Edexcel had been delayed.