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Last Updated: Monday, 18 August, 2003, 10:51 GMT 11:51 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 poorer quality of some papers, the report states.

Mr Tomlinsons said there were also some remaining issues about the setting of grade boundaries.

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 and to grade setting.

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 in each subject 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."

Whereas there was a rise in the proportion of students getting top A-level grades, there was a decline from last year at AS-level.

Mike Tomlinson's 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 student 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.

Grade boundaries

Mr Tomlinson also said the QCA's code of practice should be revised again "to make absolutely clear the marks to be included in the so-called 'zone of uncertainty' or 'grey area'."

This involves where the exam boards draw the line sbetween the A/B and E/U grade bopundaries.

"At present there remains some variation across boards, centring on where consensus, as required, is unanimity or not," he said.

He also suggests that the sample scripts produced by the QCA might be further revised by including examples of whole papers at the A/B and E/U boundaries, including examples of where performance varies significantly between questions in the paper.

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".

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


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