The latest exams fiasco shows the need for reform

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The Independent Online

The testing and examination system hardly needed another marking fiasco, but yesterday's refreshingly frank report from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authorities, the Government's exams watchdog, revealed that it has one. Admittedly, this year's problems related to only one subject - English - and one test, the national curriculum test for 14-year-olds. However, the authority has unearthed a series of blunders that led to the tests going out to schools late and poor marking once the scripts had been returned to examiners.

The testing and examination system hardly needed another marking fiasco, but yesterday's refreshingly frank report from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authorities, the Government's exams watchdog, revealed that it has one. Admittedly, this year's problems related to only one subject - English - and one test, the national curriculum test for 14-year-olds. However, the authority has unearthed a series of blunders that led to the tests going out to schools late and poor marking once the scripts had been returned to examiners.

Public faith in the examination system was dented two years ago, when nearly 2,000 candidates had to have their A-levels upgraded as a result of uncertainty by the exam boards over marking standards. That fiasco contributed to the resignation of the then Secretary of State for Education, Estelle Morris.

At the same time, Dr Ken Boston took over as chief executive of the QCA. He has already initiated swift action to drag what he has termed the "cottage industry'' of the examination system into the 21st century. However, yesterday's report suggests that all is still not well with his organisation, even though it is refreshing this time to have a public admission of the faults rather than have to await an independent inquiry.

The A-level marking shambles of 2002 led to the establishment of an inquiry by the former chief schools inspector Mike Tomlinson into the education of 14- to 19-year-olds. One of his key recommendations was to reduce the burden of testing and examinations for what he calls the most over-examined students in the Western world.

He wants GCSEs to be downgraded, with most tests internally marked by specially trained teachers. He has also said that youngsters do not need to take AS-levels at the end of the first year in the sixth form in subjects they intend to continue with to a full A-level. One of the contributory factors to this year's problem with the English tests for 14-year-olds is the pressure the entire system is under as a result of having too many tests and exams. Yesterday's events show that the Government needs to move quickly on the recommendations of the Tomlinson inquiry.

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