Commons may investigate Edexcel

24 Jan 02
The education and skills select committee is considering an investigation into the disgraced examination board Edexcel after a catalogue of errors left Education Secretary Estelle Morris 'fuming'.

25 January 2002

With a track record of poor performance over the past two years, the company has been responsible for a series of mistakes in the past week. One left students facing an AS-level maths question that was unanswerable, and then a college in Kent found out the night before an exam was to be taken that it was missing two pages of questions.

Select committee chair Barry Sheerman told Radio 4's Today programme: 'There have been some problems and they should be sorted out. There may be room for an inquiry.'

After Morris wrote to the regulatory body, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, demanding prompt action, the QCA sent Bill Kelly, director of quality audit, to Edexcel to 'instil some stability' and ensure that the board is capable of running its schedule of exams this summer.

But head teachers and college chiefs demanded that the company be stripped of its contract. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: 'The apparent lack of quality assurance and cavalier disregard for the interests of students are breathtaking.'

With Edexcel's contract up for renewal in September, officials at the Department for Education and Skills have said the company will not necessarily be retained after this week's debacle.

Edexcel is certainly feeling the pressure of a bad year in 2001. Last October, the then chief executive Christina Townsend left the board following what she described in her resignation letter as a 'particularly demanding year'.

Later the company was accused by dozens of schools and colleges of marking down the exams of thousands of students.

Edexcel's chief executive, John Kerr, welcomed the auditor from the QCA and said the company would give full assistance to the audit of its performance. 'I need to apologise to all the students and parents concerned by these administrative errors,' he said. 'No candidate will suffer as a result.'

But Sheerman proffered a supportive tone: 'I don't think we need to go over the top and say the board should be sacked but we should take the opportunity to ask questions about how exam-centred this country has become.'

Although the government should want to measure the performance of pupils, he said, there was a danger that 'we are turning into an exam-obsessed society, with people learning merely to pass exams, which could obstruct wider learning'.


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