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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 04:13 GMT
Warning of more trouble for A-levels
QCA chief Ken Boston
Ken Boston: Plans to tighten up the system
The new head of the QCA exams watchdog in England has told MPs there could be further "strife" in the A-level exams next year.


I'm not at all sure that we won't have strife ahead of us again

Ken Boston, QCA
Ken Boston, the Australian educationist who took over as the QCA's new chief executive on 12 September, at the height of the re-grading crisis, said he had "no magic wand".

"I'm not sure that the path to the exams in January and in June will be smooth: there are some problems ahead of us," he told the Commons education select committee inquiry into his organisation.

There were "enormous logistical problems" with the system which needed urgent attention.

For one thing, many examiners might refuse to mark scripts next year because of their experiences this summer.

"I'm not at all sure that we won't have strife ahead of us again."

Authority and power

Dr Boston said the QCA needed "the authority and credibility to make statements about the system ... be believed, and have the power to fix them".

"It's the watchdog, and the watchdog occasionally must bark."

He said there had to be "clear blue water" between the exam boards and the government - and the bridge across that should be the QCA.

In the past its biggest mistake had been not to have been "vocal enough" in saying the changes - to the new, two-part A-level - were being rushed.

In saying this he echoed what the MPs had just been told by the chief executives of the three main exam boards, OCR, AQA and Edexcel.

Pressure

John Kerr - head of the Edexcel board - said they had come under "unacceptable pressure" from the QCA to see that the A-level results this summer were at the same level as in 2001.

He said he remained unhappy even after the boards exchanged letters with the former head of the QCA, Sir William Stubbs, to clarify what he had told them at a joint meeting in March.

Kathleen Tattersall of AQA told the committee that the meeting with the QCA in March had focused on what should be the outcomes of the new A-levels, "the expectation being" that the 2002 results would be very similar to those in 2001.

She later wrote to Sir William Stubbs on behalf of the boards to clarify the issue and was satisfied when he replied, agreeing that the results should reflect the candidates' work.

She did not see that she was under pressure to bring in results at the same level as the previous year.

"AQA didn't respond to any pressure of any kind," she said.

'Unethical'

But John Kerr said his board had been "extremely concerned" at what was said at the March meeting and he had not been reassured by Sir William's subsequent letter.

"The pressure was clearly inappropriate", he said.

To have held down students' results to the level of the previous year "would have been unethical".

Sir William - who is to give evidence to the MPs at a later date - was forced to resign by the education secretary after suggesting she had sought to pre-judge the outcome of the inquiry she set up by the former chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson.

The alleged A-level grades manipulation

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