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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 13:17 GMT
A-level inquiry calls for sweeping change
exam room
Exam burden needs to be reduced, says Tomlinson
The inquiry into the future of A-levels has recommended big changes to the system that has just been introduced, to make it less confusing.

Mike Tomlinson - who was asked to investigate the fiasco over this year's grades - says the two parts of the new exam should be split into separate qualifications.



But although accepting many of the report's recommendations, and promising an extra 6m to recruit more markers, Education Secretary Charles Clarke has not promised to divide the AS-level and A2 exams.

But Mr Clarke has accepted calls for an independent monitoring group to scrutinise A-level standards each year, to end the annual "dumbing down" row.

And the education secretary backs Mr Tomlinson's call for better training for examiners.

The report says that the government should think about cutting the number of GCSE and A-level exams students sit.

"I firmly believe the present operation can, and should, be improved," he said.

Another longer-term recommendation is that pupils should have their A-level results before applying to university.

But this would depend on a major re-design of the school or university year - and there are no signs of early movement on this.

Mr Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of England's schools, has also recommended changes to get a more transparent, efficient and professional exam system.

He calls for more training and formal qualifications for school examination officers.

Tomlinson's 'medium term' recommendations
Reduce exam administration demands on schools and colleges
More professional examining - including training
Clarify relationship between the QCA, DfES and exam boards
Independent group to ensure standards are maintained
Simpler rules on re-sits and "cashing-in" AS units
Greater use of ICT in the exam system

And results could be delayed by a couple of weeks to provide more time so that mistakes in grading could be reduced.

Splitting the AS-level and A2 exams - the two parts of the new A-level - should not be rushed, Mr Tomlinson said.

It might take five years - but work could start straight away.

The idea behind the independent monitoring group is that it would verify A-level standards each year and protect the system against accusations that exams are becoming easier.

The report also reinforces the message that there must be no future confusion about A-level standards.

He said schools should have "very clear definitions of standards" - but he was confident that the work being done already by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) would ensure this for 2003.

Complaints

Mr Tomlinson's interim report into the allegations of grade fixing led to the upgrading of almost 2,000 students' A-level and AS-level results.

Longer term
De-coupling AS and A2 to create two free-standing qualifications
Investigate practicality of post-qualification university admissions

The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, is due to make a statement to MPs on his final recommendations on Tuesday afternoon.

The inquiry was set up by Mr Clarke's predecessor, Estelle Morris, in response to complaints from schools that students' results appeared to have been downgraded this summer - in particular by the OCR exam board.

Late changes to grade boundaries by the head of OCR, Ron McClone, were at the heart of the crisis.

Following the review process set up by Mr Tomlinson, grades were raised in 10 A-level subjects and four AS-level, all with OCR - although that did not address everyone's complaints.

Confusion

Ms Morris had asked Mr Tomlinson to go on to investigate the arrangements at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and the exam boards for "setting, maintaining and judging A-level standards, which are challenging, and ensuring their consistency over time".

Mike Tomlinson
Mike Tomlinson wants a less confusing A-level system

He was also asked to recommend "action with the aim of securing the credibility and integrity of these exams".

Mr Tomlinson sought people's views in particular on the way AS papers and A2s - the two parts of the new A-level - each accounted for 50% of the final qualification, but were supposed to be of differing difficulty.

This issue was at the heart of the confusion over what the A-level standard should be.

Head teachers have said confusion remains, even as schools are preparing students for next year's exams, starting in January.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Baker
"The inquiry head wants fewer exams"
Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman
"The recommendations in this report are not going to trim the powers of chief executives"
The alleged A-level grades manipulation

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