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EXAM SYSTEM COULD COLLAPSE, SAY MPs

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School pupils are so overloaded by the number of exams they have to take each year that the system is in danger of ...
School pupils are so overloaded by the number of exams they have to take each year that the system is in danger of a total breakdown, according to a parliamentary investigation to be released today, reported The Observer (p7).

The Commons education select committee will say that much of the examination system is still stuck in the nineteenth century and that hundreds of thousands of students face unacceptable levels of stress because of the constant round of testing. One person close to the committee said that bureaucratic marking systems were still in the era of the 'pen and quill'.

Marking systems are so over-stretched that there is the potential for the entire process to descend into chaos, the report will say. Education experts fear that without radical change England and Wales could be facing the same problems as Scotland where a computer breakdown three years ago led to thousands of students being sent the wrong results.

Children take up to 87 tests and exams during their time at school, the first within seven weeks of starting at the age of four or five. Other major exams are held at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 before a long round of GCSE exams, A/S levels and A Levels at the age of 17 or 18.

The results often have a major impact on pupils' school futures, leading to increased reports of stress among young people. Although the report will say that exams are important, it will encourage schools to set up more informal testing arrangements so that children can avoid the 'need to perform' pressure of formal exams.

The government admitted last week that it was looking at ways of reducing the demands on teenagers, some of whom will sit five AS level exam papers in a single day next month as a result of a gruelling schedule prompted by the proliferation of tests.

The report is expected to pour cold water on government plans to scrap A levels in favour of a more demanding French-style baccalaureate. It will urge ministers no to follow 'educational fads', warning that schools have e ndured years of upheaval and need a period of calm for reforms to bed in.

The report comes after last year's revelation that A level grades had been fixed after fears that too many pupils were gaining top grades. The report will say the fiasco was caused by reforms to the A level system rushed through before the last general election. Schools were unclear how to mark the new A/S and A level exams, leading to wide variations across the country. The report is expected to single out the Oxford and Cambridge board and its chairman, Ron McClone, for criticism over the grade-fixing row, but it will also accuse the BBC's Today programme of whipping up hysteria over marking last summer.

The committee findings will draw heavily on evidence given by Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which is in overall charge of exam standards. Dr Boston warned the committee of an 'assessment frenzy' in schools which was detracting from the real work of teachers. He said this year's A levels would involve marking 17 million scripts and require 50,000 markers, a fifth of all teachers in the country.

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