Inquiry launched into A-level delays

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The Independent Online

Examination boards will face a Commons inquiry into delays in sending out A-level results, when Parliament reconvenes next month.

Examination boards will face a Commons inquiry into delays in sending out A-level results, when Parliament reconvenes next month.

The Government's exams watchdog also promised to investigate complaints about the delays, revealed in The Independent yesterday.

Barry Sheerman, the Labour chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Education, said exam boards and education ministers would be required to give evidence to the committee. "Everyone is concerned when students fail to receive their results on time. It is a great trauma for them, especially when they are awaiting a university place," he said. "If this is a serious problem affecting a number of youngsters, then I am sure it will be one of the issues we want to push them on. We will also be asking them if we are becoming too exam-driven a culture."

Headteachers have blamed the delays on a plethora of exams taken by students this summer and the introduction of the AS-level, saying that they had put too much pressure on the marking system. Many exam boards asked their more experienced teachers to take on more scripts this year.

The select committee wants to scrutinise the education system more closely. It is to call all six education ministers, as well as the exam boards and bodies such as Ofsted, the Government's education standards watchdog, to give evidence.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, promised it would "look carefully" into complaints as the number of candidates affected by delays grew. Sixth-formers at Sherburn School in Selby, Yorkshire, were told that they might have to wait up to three days for their results. The 30 pupils affected were taking geography, business studies and general studies with two different exam boards.

Students at Devonport High School for Boys in Plymouth studying classical civilisation were baffled to be awarded Q grades on the computer instead of A to E grades. A call to the exam board revealed that this meant part of the exam had yet to be marked. Dr Nic Pettit, the headteacher, said two of the students needed A grades in the subject to confirm places at Oxford University. "The students suffered considerable anxiety because of this delay," he said.

A spokesman for OCR, the Oxford and Cambridge exam board that set the paper, said scripts needed to be marked nearly two weeks before publication to be listed in the results. When this happened, letters should be sent to schools giving them the missing results. "For whatever reason this did not happen in this case," he said. "We are looking into why this letter did not arrive."

In all, 400 of the 2,000 students who sat the exam did not have their papers marked by the deadline. The students at Devonport received their grades later in the day.

Media studies students at Roade school, a comprehensive in Northampton, were also affected. They received only partial results because of an administrative error. They have been assured university places will be held open to them until the mistake is rectified.

David Rendel, the Liberal Democrats' further and higher education spokesman, called for an inquiry "to get to the bottom of why these delays have occurred this year". He said: "It is yet another problem created by the ill-thought out and rushed introduction of AS-level. These delays have occurred because there are many more exams to mark this year – half of them being AS-level."

A spokeswoman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said: "This year a record number of papers have been marked and the vast majority of results have been delivered on time. We will look carefully into cases where the results have been delayed. We will make sure that students' grades are not affected as a result of this delay."

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