Select Committee on Education and Skills Third Report


The Education and Skills Committee has agreed to the following Report:



Last summer there was considerable concern about the integrity of the A level system. The problems that occurred were largely due to the implementation of a new curriculum. The evidence we have taken in this inquiry has challenged many of the allegations made last year and underlined the importance of understanding the examination system. The A level examination system in this country has not been transparent and this had led to confusion throughout the system, from students to examiners. Whilst a small number of students had their examination papers re-graded, the concern of the media that tens of thousands of pupils could have papers remarked was not realised. There was however, a lack of communication and understanding between the examination boards, the QCA and the DfES.

The standard of A levels is often questioned. Evidence presented to us strongly suggested that, whilst the A level curricula and methods of assessment have changed, the system has not changed its standard. The increasing number of students passing A levels can mostly be explained by understanding the changes to the A level examination system since 1983. We should also recognise the widespread improvement of teaching quality and teaching resources over the last twenty years.


  1. In August 2002 following the publication of the A level results, the A level examination system was heavily criticised by students, teachers, individual examiners and the media. There was considerable concern that a very large number of students' grades had been manipulated by the examination boards in order to ensure that the introduction of Curriculum 2000 did not lead to grade inflation. The DfES responded to this by announcing an independent inquiry by Mr Mike Tomlinson, former Chief Inspector of Schools. The QCA undertook an inquiry into course marking at 100 schools which focused on the complaints made against the examination boards.

  2. On 27 September, the then Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Estelle Morris MP, sacked the Chairman of the QCA, Sir William Stubbs, "to restore and maintain confidence in the examination system".[1] She then resigned, herself, on Wednesday 23rd October 2002. Whilst our inquiry did take note of these events, our main concern was to establish the events behind the public debate on A level standards. We were concerned that the A level system had again been criticised and that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority [QCA], the examination boards and the DfES did not appear to be working together effectively. We announced our inquiry into A level standards and the work of the QCA on 7 October 2002. Our inquiry focused on the role of the QCA, the DfES and the relevant English awarding bodies.

1   DfES press notice 2002/0180 Back

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