Science exams 'fail to stretch brightest'

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The Independent Online

The Government was hit by a new exams scandal yesterday as its own official watchdog blamed "faulty" questions for failing to stretch the brightest pupils in GCSE science exams.

The Government was hit by a new exams scandal yesterday as its own official watchdog blamed "faulty" questions for failing to stretch the brightest pupils in GCSE science exams.

The criticism was in a report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which also confirmed that some exam boards' papers were easier to pass than others.

The report, a subject-by-subject look at GCSE and A-level standards and the national curriculum, indicated that questions in the new GCSE double science paper failed to give pupils the chance to demonstrate what they knew.

"There were several instances where it was thought that too much emphasis was placed on recall," it added. As a result, they "did not provide sufficient opportunity for pupils to develop higher-level skills".

The findings, which compare standards before and after the Government's shake-up of exams in 2000, follow the fiasco 18 months ago when nearly 2,000 A-level students had to have their marks upgraded as a result of examiners failing to understand the standards demanded by the new system.

The shake-up saw the introduction of a double science GCSE exam, which incorporated physics, chemistry and biology and is the source of the watchdog's concern about the standards of the questions.

The QCA said that it had set up an international panel to check on exam standards in the UK, to be headed by Professor Barry McGaw, director of education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is due to report in the autumn.

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