Move to cut number of high GCSE grades

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The Independent Online
URGENT changes are being made to GCSE examinations after a government inquiry confirmed that too many candidates gained high grades in some areas of the country this summer.

Up to 30,000 pupils due to resit their examinations in two weeks' time will have their papers subjected to closer scrutiny, and greater uniformity is to be imposed across the five examining boards in England and Wales. The changes will not affect this summer's grades.

Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, last night released a letter from her most senior examinations adviser, Sir Ron Dearing, which called for immediate reforms.

The changes will affect 600,000 pupils sitting GCSE exams next summer. They mark a recognition that a new code of practice has not succeeded in ironing out discrepancies between different boards. This summer there was a 51 per cent increase in the number of science entries gaining Bs and a 44 per cent increase in maths among candidates with boards in London and the South-east.

From this autumn, exam boards will be expected to work more closely during the marking process and to operate an 'early warning' system in order to identify problems such as the ones which arose this year.

Next summer a national archive of past exam papers is to be set up so that examiners will be able to compare candidates' work with those from previous years and from other areas of the country.

In the longer term, boards will be expected to cut the number of syllabuses they offer in each subject and even to work towards sharing just one or two courses nationally in each. At present there are about 20 syllabuses for maths and 15 for dual-subject science.

A final report on the inquiry will be sent to Mrs Shephard by Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, when it is complete. A spokesman for the Southern Examining Group, which with the University of London Examinations and Assessment Council was at the heart of the inquiry, accepted its recommendations but added that the system was already rigorous.