Thousands of teachers still unsure how to mark new A-levels, survey shows

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The Independent Online

Thousands of teachers are unsure of marking standards for the new A-level exam, a survey for the Government's exams watchdog reveals today.

Seventy six per cent of teachers at 1,164 schools surveyed said they were confident of the standard for the new exam, despite the government shake-up of A-levels having been introduced two years ago.

Headteachers' leaders said the figures were a legacy of the marking crisis last year which saw nearly 2,000 students awarded the wrong grades and having results changed.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "I would have expected all teachers to know the standard for marking by now. It can only be a throwback to the summer of 2002, which has had a lasting effect on teachers' confidence."

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the exams watchdog, presented the figures as a sign that confidence in the exam was growing.

At AS-level, the new exam taken by most youngsters at the end of their first year in the sixth form, 81 per cent of teachers said they felt confident of the standard.

The exams watchdog said the figures compared with only 44 per cent feeling confident of A-level standards in 2002 - the year of the fiasco - and 67 per cent being confident of the AS-level standards.

However, the QCA acknowledged the figure for the new VCE (vocational A-level) of only 47 per cent expressing confidence presented a "converse" picture. In addition, only 17 per cent expressed confidence in the new key skills test in the basics of literacy, numeracy and information technology. Mr Dunford said: "The reason is because nobody is showing any interest in the results and because the assessment of it is terribly complicated. As a result, few schools are offering it."

A survey by the QCA and Ucas (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) showed that 79 per cent of higher education establishments believed universities did not recognise the key skills qualification.

Universities were also lukewarm towards the new Advanced Extension Awards - or world-class tests as they have been dubbed by ministers. The Government had been hoping the tests could be used to help admissions tutors select candidates.

However, the survey reveals the number of candidates taking the tests had increased only slightly (from 19.6 per cent to 20.1 per cent) with respondents saying they were of "no value to higher education".

The review offers some comfort for the Government by showing that the introduction of the new AS-level exam has led to more breadth in sixth-form studies. The majority of youngsters are opting to study four subjects at AS-level and go on to take three of them at A-level. A QCA spokesman said: "We are pleased teachers have a much better understanding of the new A-level system than they did a year ago." He said example papers making the standards clear had been issued.