Victorian tests will go online under Tories

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The Independent Online

The debate over whether or not school exams have become easier over the years may finally be answered by a plan to publish past papers, dating back to the Victorian period, online.

The Conservatives are to set up a digital library of past papers in a bid to allow the public to decide for themselves whether A-Levels, O-Levels and GCSEs have been "dumbed down" to improve results.

Michael Gove, the Conservative spokesman on schools, said the library was included in a plan to "restore public confidence in the exams system". The Tories also see the website as part of their campaign to bring about a "post-bureaucratic age" to British politics.

Anyone will be able to upload past papers on the site, and the Tories will add far more to the library once they have access to them, should they form the next Government. Mr Gove has been angry at the lack of co-operation from the Government and exam boards in gaining access to past papers.

"It is vital that we restore public confidence in our exam system," Mr Gove said. "Universities, businesses and academics say the system has been devalued and private schools are opting out of GCSEs for international exams.

"Now the Government treats exam papers like state secrets and refuses to publish them. This is wrong and a Conservative government will create a free online library of all exam papers so there is full transparency and academic scrutiny of our exam system."

The Tories have also said that they will allow state schools to use alternative tests to GCSEs that are increasingly popular among private schools. They would permit the introduction of international GCSEs, thought by some to be more demanding than normal GCSEs. Use of the new Cambridge Pre-U exam would also be approved as an alternative to A-levels.

The plan comes amid accusations that degrees have become easier over recent decades, with the number of students gaining firsts rising sharply.

A parliamentary inquiry, published yesterday, found that different universities required "different levels of effort" from their students, despite the fact that they emerged with the same degrees. The Commons innovation, universities and skills committee called on the watchdog overseeing universities to be overhauled or scrapped in a bid to resolve the problem.

It also asked for new guidelines to be set on marking degrees after the number of firsts awarded by universities doubled in a decade. "We are extremely concerned that inconsistency in standards is rife and there is a reluctance to address this issue," said Phil Willis, the committee's chairman.

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