Patten in rethink on starred A-levels

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS have been forced into an embarrassing climbdown over plans to reward the brightest A-level candidates with 'starred' A grades.

Examinations advisers were asked yesterday to look for alternative ways of rewarding excellence after protests that the idea of awarding an extra grade to the top 5 per cent of candidates would not work. The predicted climbdown was first reported by the Independent in March.

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, also hinted that A- level candidates this year could have marks deducted for poor spelling, punctuation and grammar. He said key aspects of a new code of practice should be in place this year, but examination boards said they could not see how they could do this when the tests had already started.

Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, SCAA, had told Mr Patten that there was little support for the plan. However, Mr Patten suggested yesterday that he was still not convinced by the arguments against it.

'I am concerned to ensure effective recognition of the achievements of GCE A-level and AS-level candidates of exceptional ability, and have yet to see a convincing alternative to the proposal for a 'starred' A grade.

'Before deciding on the implementation of the 'starred A' grade I would like to have considered advice from the authority on the full range of measures that might be taken,' he said.

Mr Patten announced last November that the new grade would be introduced by 1995, but the idea was rebuffed by schools, teachers' organisations and examinations boards as well as by SCAA. They said the A grade was already of a very high standard and that it would be devalued by the move.

Officials will now consider other possibilities including 'extension' questions in exams which would be answered only by pupils who had done extra work.