Liberal Democrats call for single exam board

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Indy Politics
URGENT consideration should be given to creating a single examination board in the wake of schools inspectors' reservations about GCSE standards, Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, said yesterday.

Speaking at the launch of the party's education discussion paper, Mr Foster said: 'Now that we have a standardised national curriculum, thought must be given to a standardised system of marking and evaluating.'

Accusing John Patten of 'disgraceful behaviour' over the report, he said the Secretary of State must not use criticism of the GCSE for a return to 'the bad old days of O-levels and CSEs'.

Urgent consideration should be given, however, to a single examination board replacing the present four. 'I genuinely don't believe that examination boards are ripe for a competitive approach,' he said.

The party's policy paper repeats the commitment to spend an extra pounds 2bn a year on education, with an additional pounds 500m a year for building maintenance, while spelling out its alternative to opting-out for grant maintained schools.

The paper claims that the Liberal Democrats would abolish local education authorities, replacing them with local education departments. The difference appears largely to involve ensuring that only elected councillors, and not co-opted members, can vote.

All schools, the paper says, would be given the greater autonomy enjoyed at present only by grant-maintained schools, although these would be brought back under local education department control.

While the paper argues that all schools would have greater independence and more managerial and financial control, it would be the education departments that set entry criteria, decided the provision of places, and determined which schools opened and closed, while allocating cash, defining special needs provision and monitoring standards through a local inspectorate.

Mr Foster said schools that had gone selective would not be allowed to remain so if the local education department's policy was against it - and the party opposed selection based on ability.

Strategic planning would be retained by the local education departments but it would be up to individual schools whether they bought in services such as school meals, transport, advisory services, auditing and music from the departments or elsewhere.

Mr Foster argued that it was the Liberal Democrats who had pioneered and still firmly believed in local management of schools, but some minimum planning above schools level was essential for sensible education provision.

The Government's recent White Paper had accepted the need for common admission policies between local education authorities and grant-maintained schools - but by encouraging opting-out, which produced 'division and selection' the Government was undermining the structures that allowed for such planning.

Under the party's plans, assessment tests would be replaced by a record of achievement, study and examination after 14 would be 'baccalaureate-style', and all three and four year olds would be entitled to nursery education.

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