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Last Updated: Monday, 18 August, 2003, 08:02 GMT 09:02 UK
A-level grades 'are fair'
Happy A-level students
Students can be confident their grades were deserved, says Mr Tomlinson
A-level students can be confident they were awarded fair grades this year after new rules were introduced following last year's fiasco, a report has said.

Former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson has given his broad approval of this summer's process.

But he warned some AS-level students may have been too tired to do their best in this year's exams because of timetable changes.

All parts of an AS-level exam are now taken on the same day which may explain the deteriorating quality of some papers, the report states.

AS-level concerns

Last year's outcry over the downgrading of some pupils' results led to the grades of 100,000 students being re-examined.

Mr Tomlinson's inquiry into the affair concluded the government had brought in changes to A-levels too quickly and recommended clearer definition of grade standards.

His latest report says markers appear to have stuck to these new standards.

But Mr Tomlinson cautions that improvements may still be necessary to AS-level exam timetabling.

I am pleased that Mike Tomlinson has confirmed that the grades students received last week represent the true value of their work
Ken Boston
Chief executive, QCA

The students take AS-level exams at the end of year 12 (the first year of sixth form), and in 2001 exam timetabling over several days led to complaints of clashing timetables and work overload.

The former Education Secretary Estelle Morris approved moves to schedule all sections of the exam on a single day.

But Mr Tomlinson said in his report: "The changed system... meant very heavy loads for some students.

"There was evidence that students were getting tired and their performance faded across later parts."

His report recommended: "In the light of uneven performance at AS, the QCA should reconsider its earlier decision to examine all AS units in a subject in one session".

AS student Stella Pagliarini
AS student Stella wished for a return to two-year A-levels

Languages student Stella Pagliarini was one AS-level pupil who complained of being overwhelmed by her workload.

The 17-year-old pupil at City and Islington Sixth Form College in London said: "It was such a big leap from GCSE, it was too stressful.

"We spent the whole year preparing for the exam instead of learning anything."

Schools minister David Miliband said timetabling problems experienced with AS levels last year had been "tackled in a coherent and serious way".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that any problems this year would be looked into.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said it would consider the report carefully.

Its chief executive, Ken Boston, said he was pleased "that Mike Tomlinson has confirmed that the grades students received last week represent the true value of their work".

Oxbridge exams

Meanwhile, the Times newspaper reports on Monday that Oxford and Cambridge universities are planning to reintroduce their own entrance papers after being overwhelmed by candidates with top grades.

There were several highly publicised cases this year of candidates being refused entry to the elite universities despite a string of A grades.

And the government has stepped back from a central element in its drive to reform underperforming schools, according to the Guardian.

It has gone back on plans to close schools in England which fail to meet the minimum target for GCSE passes for the third consecutive year, it says.

Former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson
"I am pretty confident that young people this year have got the grades that their work deserved"

Q & A: Last year's fiasco
14 Aug 03  |  Education
A-levels 'are not meaningless'
15 Aug 03  |  Education


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