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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Leaked report damns exam system
There are now 24 million exam scripts a year
Pupils and teachers are struggling under an exam system which is too fragmented and bureaucratic, according to a leaked government report.

The Cabinet Office report complains about a lack of co-ordination between the three main exam boards in England.

It says they have "different deadlines for receipt and return of information, different exam procedures and a lack of consistency in sampling requests".

And it says the lack of co-ordination leads to exam clashes for pupils and that exam papers can be delivered "very late or even after exams".

Complicated

The Times newspaper says it has seen a copy of the document.

The Cabinet Office is not denying the report's existence, but says it never comments on leaks.

The report apparently criticises the way the boards respond to problems, says guidance to teachers is inadequate and that the paperwork involved is complicated and duplicated.

The report was drawn up by a unit within the Cabinet Office which is working with the Department for Education and Skills on a project to cut bureaucracy in schools.

The group has visited 40 secondary schools and 15 local education authorities to speak to teachers, heads and officials.

Head teachers have complained about the bureaucratic burden imposed by the exam system, particularly since the introduction of the AS-levels last year.

And teachers' unions often say bureaucracy is one of the reasons teachers leave the profession.

Head teacherPeter Woods, of Haydon School in Hillingdon says the exam system is a shambles.

"My impression of the system is that it is very close to breaking point," he said.

"My big worry is that the students are not being well-served."

Amalgamation rejected

The exam system in England is far less complicated now than it was prior to the 1980s.

Then there were about two dozen exam boards. They began being amalgamated with the introduction of GCSEs.

Now there are three main exam boards in England - Edexcel, AQA and OCR.

Suggestions that these should be amalgamated again to cut down on bureaucracy and duplication have been rejected by the boards involved.

Choice

George Turnbull, spokesman for the body which represents all three, the Joint Council for General Qualifications, says allegations that the system is bureaucratic and unco-ordinated are untrue.

"Exam boards are more co-ordinated than ever they were before.

"They come under the control of the QCA [Qualifications and Curriculum Authority] and have a code of practice which is applied rigorously."

Mr Turnbull rejected calls for there to be one exam board in England.

"At the moment, students and schools have a choice.

Changes ahead

"If they don't like the way a board operates or the service they get from a board, they can go elsewhere."

A spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills said the study of schools was aimed at cutting bureaucracy.

She said: "This survey was conducted to look into the administrative burdens on schools - not the quality of the exam system itself - and the final results will help inform future policy on easing these burdens.

Areas for improvement had been indentified.

"But we can go further. In the education bill going through the House we are seeking new powers for the QCA to act earlier to improve systems and support awarding bodies to give high quality services to students."

The beleaguered exam board Edexcel said its immediate concern was delivering this summer's exams securely.

"We welcome a sensible wider debate on the exam system as a whole - how it may be better resourced, modernised and taken forward to deal with the new challenges offered by recent educational reform," said the chief executive, John Kerr.

"We are disappointed not to have been consulted over this particular report, and surprised at the timing of its becoming public, but are very happy to engage in positive dialogue with the government and other involved parties."

The 2001 changes

Latest developments

Background
See also:

31 May 02 | UK Education
15 May 02 | UK Education
31 May 02 | UK Education
18 Dec 01 | UK Education
22 Mar 01 | UK Education
04 Oct 01 | UK Education
26 Jan 02 | Mike Baker
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