Performance tables for exam boards

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The Independent Online

A crackdown on exam boards was announced yesterday after fierce criticism of marking standards and performance.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, said it would set stiff targets and publish performance tables for the first time to show how well the boards compared.

Professor David Hargreaves, its chief executive, said there had been "a high level of dissatisfaction" with their perform-ance by schools. A review of changes to the secondary school curriculum – including the introduction of AS-levels – reported: "Concerns include quality of marking, timeliness of materials, delays to inquiries on results and lack of responsiveness to complaints."

The following targets are likely to be set: all results should be sent to the appropriate school or college on the agreed date; at least 85 per cent of GCSE, A and AS-level scripts should be marked in time for the meeting that decides on awards; 95 per cent of all inquiries on results and appeals against marks should be completed within 30 days; and all information requests and complaints should be dealt with within seven days.

The Independent revealed during the summer how hundreds of youngsters endured delays over their results, some lasting several days.

Professor Hargreaves said he would consult the exam boards on the targets in the new year. The results of their performance would be published so they could be seen by schools and parents.

The review also expressed concern over the AS-level maths examination after 30 per cent of those who took it failed last summer. "That was twice as high a failure rate as for any other science subject," said Professor Hargreaves. "Some students may just have found the three separate units of the exam and the time-scale for them impossible."

For the next two years, schools are to be offered the opportunity to sit one unit in the following autumn term to give youngsters more time to complete the course. The content of the curriculum will be reviewed by autumn 2002.

"Many of the problems seem to have bedded down now," Professor Hargreaves added. "The second year of AS-levels is proving to be a very different kettle of fish to the first and we would expect more problems to abate with time."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, welcomed the review, adding: "It is vital that improvements are made in maths AS-level examinations. This country desperately needs more qualified mathematicians and maths teachers."

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