More than 1,000 GCSE and A-level exam scripts went missing this summer, the head of the Government's exams watchdog revealed yesterday.
Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, made the admission in a speech to the Joint Council for General Qualifications - the body which represents all exam boards.
He said: "Although the number of missing scripts is a very small percentage of the total, none of us can accept that scripts for 1,062 students were missing on results day.
"Without substantial and early reform, the [exams] system will continue to operate at unacceptable levels of public risk."
A spokeswoman for the QCA said the exam scripts had gone missing in transit in separate incidents and that the pupils concerned had been awarded estimated marks on the basis of work done during the school year.
Dr Boston said that despite the losses, this year's exams had been delivered well, compared with the crisis last year which led to 2,000 A-level students having their results upgraded as a result of confusion over marking standards. But, he added that the success only came about as a result of examiners taking on significantly greater workloads than in previous years.
"Whilst being the international benchmark for marking and grading, we are far from the world's best practice in the infrastructure of logistics and administration to support it," he said.
Twenty-five million scripts had to go back and forth from school to examiner and back again.
An exam board could therefore be placed within hours of failure to deliver results because of the sheer size and logistical difficulties of coping with the system.
Dr Boston said the relative success of this summer's exams should not mask the need for real reform of the system - including the replacement of A-levels by an English-style baccalaureate exam.
"Some people have suggested to me that if we successfully deliver A-level and GCSE examinations in 2003 and 2004, the steam might go out of any movement to have an English baccalaureate," he said. "I think that would be a great mistake."
He added that he was "disturbed" about the numbers of youngsters who left school without the equivalent of five grade A* to C passes - and the fact that a report earlier this week from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had shown the UK "falling behind other countries".
He said: "We will fail those children now in primary and lower secondary school unless we achieve fundamental reform in education at ages 14 to 19."Reuse content