Page last updated at 15:38 GMT, Monday, 1 September 2008 16:38 UK

'Confidence hit' as exams change

painting and decorating student
Diplomas are starting in five subjects including construction

The chief exams watchdog for England has said the problems with Sats marking have damaged confidence in the system just as big changes are happening.

Ofqual chief executive Isabel Nisbet said risks had to be identified to restore people's faith.

The next two years see changes to A-levels and new functional skills tests in revamped modular GCSEs.

Ms Nisbet told the Guardian Ofqual was also working "very hard" to ensure confidence in the new Diplomas.

The fact that there has been an operation failure in the tests this summer has affected confidence in the system

Isabel Nisbet, Ofqual

These start to be taught in five subjects from this autumn, though with a limited uptake among the teenagers they are aimed at.

A total of 20,264 will be studying for them, according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families: 13,168 pre-16 and 7,096 post-16.

These include: construction and the built environment - 3,054, creative and media - 5,943, engineering - 4,232, society, health and development - 3,238, information technology - 3,797.

Ofqual has also announced the accreditation of new principal learning qualifications and the overarching structure for Diplomas in business, administration and finance; environmental and land-based studies; hair and beauty studies; hospitality; and manufacturing and product design.

These will be available for first teaching from September 2009.

'Operation failure'

Ms Nisbet said: "There's a lot happening in the next two years. Everyone in qualifications and testing is aware that there are a lot of changes happening.

"We need to make sure it is a reliable process and inspires confidence.

"The fact that there has been an operation failure in the tests this summer has affected confidence in the system."

Ofqual (the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator) maintains "risk registers" relating to the sprawling examinations system.

"We have to identify which risks could raise problems and which bits could be severe. We have to tackle this to inspire confidence," Ms Nisbet said.

Ofqual was set up by education ministers in the past year to provide an independent check on the system.

Delivery of the 2008 Sats or national curriculum test results proved fraught, with contractor ETS being removed from the job and the deadline for appeals extended as schools begin to reopen for the autumn term.

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