Teachers attack the 'all-clear' for Edexcel

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The Independent Online

Headteachers condemned an official report yesterday that gave the troubled Edexcel exam board a reprieve, saying it would do little to reassure pupils, parents and teachers that they would not suffer renewed problems this summer.

Edexcel was given the "all-clear" after its plans to ensure its national exams would be trouble-free were approved by the exam watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The board, which handles nearly a third of exam entries in England, had risked losing its accreditation after a series of blunders in January's exams. A misprint in an AS-level maths exam had rendered a question impossible to answer and pages in communications papers were omitted in error.

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, was said to be "furious" at the errors and ordered an inquiry into the board's procedures. The board was given four weeks to improve and a troubleshooter from the QCA was sent to help to overhaul its procedures.

Her aides had threatened that the exam board could be stripped of its licence to run GCSE, AS and A-level papers when its contract comes up for renewal in September.

The QCA said Edexcel had provided a rundown of "lessons learnt" from last summer, an action plan for this year's tests and assurances that it could operate competently.

The board is likely to face renewed criticism later this month when the QCA publishes a report on how successful all the exam boards were at meeting deadlines for remarking contested scripts. The report is unlikely to praise Edexcel, which has already seen its chief executive resign after complaints that it had failed to meet the deadlines.

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, described the QCA report as superficial. He said: "The really glaring omission is its failure to state unequivocally that if Edexcel is incompetent again, their licence will be terminated.

"Students, their parents and their teachers, all of whom have suffered at the hands of Edexcel during the past few years, will want to know that this is really the 'last chance saloon' for this organisation. QCA's report fails them and will be regarded as something of a 'whitewash'."

The Association of Colleges, whose 420 college members are Edexcel's biggest customer, gave the report a cautious welcome. Judith Norrington, its director of curriculum and quality, said a new survey of colleges appeared to show some improvement but warned that nearly half of them still believed Edexcel's performance was deteriorating.

She said: "We are grateful that Edexcel is responding to our pressure and advice about improvement and we continue to work closely with them and with QCA. However, there is still a long way to go for Edexcel to deliver the service we want for our students."

Gwen Evans, a deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said it would be "many years" before teachers regained their trust in Edexcel. "If only Edexcel had heeded the clear warnings that teachers have repeated over and over again. Edexcel's disregard of teacher expertise has led to a crisis of confidence and it could have been avoided," she said.

Damian Green, the Tory education spokesman, warned that the real test of the board's improvement would be this summer's exams. He said: "Let's hope that there has been a real test of Edexcel's ability to perform competently this summer. If this has just been an exercise in glossing over the problems then thousands of students could be affected."

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