New exam system has gone wrong, admits its architect

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The Independent Online

The government adviser behind the introduction of the controversial new AS-level exam has admitted the new system has gone wrong.

Dr Nick Tate, who is chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, and is now headmaster of Winchester College, the leading independent boys' school, said: "We're very concerned about the impact of the new exam system on pupils.

"We have pupils taking some GCSE exams a year early, so that means they get four consecutive years of exams.''

The new AS-level exam, worth half an A-level, is taken by most youngsters at the end of their first year in the sixth form.

Dr Tate conceded there was a need for a review of the exam system because pupils were now over-tested. Demands for an independent inquiry into its introduction have already been made by the National Association of Head Teachers.

Dr Tate said he felt a reduction in the number of GCSEs taken by pupils could be the answer to easing the pressure. For years, Winchester has been reducing the number of GCSE exams sat by its pupils.

"We've made youngsters sit too many external examinations in their last three years of schooling,'' he added.

"On the other hand, the stimulus of AS-levels helps some pupils in the first year of the sixth form work harder than they otherwise would have done.''

Some headteachers have called for the abolition of GCSEs since so few youngsters now leave full-time education at 16.

The main complaints are that the new system is putting too much strain on pupils, exam boards are still short of markers,and schools are having to set aside so many rooms for the increased number of external examinations that PE and music frequently have to be cancelled.

The new Secretary of State for Education, Estelle Morris, will carry out a review of the new system.