Hi-tech solution may end long summer wait for exam results

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The Independent Online

The agonising two-month wait over the summer holidays for GCSE and A-level results for up to a million youngsters will soon be just a painful memory.

The introduction of more sophisticated technology by exam boards will allow them to mark scripts online and cut marking time by as much as 50 per cent within two years.

In addition, Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the Government's exams watchdog, wants to see the boards racing each other to see who can get the results out first.

Exam boards believe that the technology will enable them to get results out by the end of July, meaning that pupils and their parents will not have to curtail their holidays in August.

Dr Boston believes competition between the boards will improve the service they offer to schools. He would also like to see an end to the annual August "pantomime" about whether rising pass rates mean standards have fallen. He says allowing each board to produce their results when they are ready will reduce the amount of national attention paid to them.

At present, aggregate A-level results for the entire country are published in the middle of August. GCSE results come out a week later.

Teachers' leaders and parents have welcomed the idea of publishing the results before the long summer break, but they want assurances over marking standards before agreeing to the plan.

They also say that the introduction of more online marking will speed up moves to allow youngsters to apply for university places after they have received their A-level results. At present, they are offered provisional places and must wait to see if they get the grades they need.

The move is backed by Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, and Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector heading a government inquiry into education for pupils aged 14 to 19. Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "We have to be sure the quality of marking does not suffer. It's admirable to try to reduce the stress on our young people of the long wait but we don't want everything coming out more swiftly then have to repent at leisure when you find the 'D' grade you've been given should have been a 'C'."

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Anything that brings the publication of results forward has to be welcomed. I have never accepted that it has to take exactly the same amount of time as it did in 1951 when A-levels were first introduced to publish the results, especially with the advent of new technology.

"But I still think we should have one results day, so I would not favour a race between the exam boards to publish results."

The earliest date changes could be made would be 2005. Until now, local education authorities have said the introduction of a six-term year, also planned for 2005, would be needed to allow students to apply for university places after getting their results.

Mr Tomlinson is expected to recommend in his final report, which will be published in June, that ministers should take whatever steps they can to ensure apost A-level application system is introduced as soon as possible.