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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
Exam watchdog 'must reform'
Pupil sits an exam
There are concerns over recent errors in papers
The body which regulates exams in England has been told to raise its game.

An official report on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) said there needed to be a sharper focus on the regulation of the big three exam boards, following a number of well-publicised errors.

The review, by the Department for Education, concluded that the authority had many strengths and was dealing with highly complex issues.

But the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, made it clear that assessment of pupils and students demanded the highest possible standards of delivery and regulation - and said the QCA must improve its performance.

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She said the new School Standards Minister, David Miliband, would work closely with the QCA, monitoring its performance and intervening where necessary, with immediate effect.

New broom

One of the criticisms is that as well as being the exams watchdog the QCA itself sets the national curriculum tests (SATs) - and this year got the papers out late to more than a hundred schools - and the new Key Skills exams.

It has now been told to look at the feasibility of having another, independent organisation administer and mark Key Skills from 2004 and the SATs from 2005.

The authority has been without a chief executive since its former boss, David Hargreaves, quit suddenly last September, just one year into his three-year position.

His role has been taken by its chairman, Sir William Stubbs, to whom Ms Morris paid tribute.

It has now appointed a leading Australian educationist, Ken Boston, as the new chief executive.

'Not good enough'

The education department's review of the QCA was brought forward a year with a view to having recommendations ready for when Dr Boston starts work in September.

The Education Bill, currently going through Parliament, will give him stronger powers to intervene with exam boards to ensure higher standards - something Sir William had demanded.

Ms Morris said the review showed the QCA was sometimes slow and unresponsive.

"It must raise its game in key areas if it is to match the demands of a changing world.

"As with all organisations, last year's good enough will not do next year."

Big changes

The authority's main roles are to set out England's national curriculum and specify what qualifications should cover - which the exam boards then use to design their examinations.

The QCA monitors the exam process and validates the qualifications.

That has been a fraught business this year and last because of the explosion in the number of exams sat, due to the Curriculum 2000 changes and the introduction of AS-levels.

The review said all those consulted about the QCA praised the expertise of its staff.

But it said they needed to be managed more effectively, and would have to be more responsive to employers' needs in developing vocational qualifications.

The QCA's chairman Sir William Stubbs
"I think there is too much testing in schools"
See also:

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