A Labour government would wipe out the six A-level exam boards and create a single, more accountable national board, the party has confirmed following the latest grade inflation scandal.
Last week the school assessment authority, SCAA, accused the Oxford and Cambridge School Exam Board of inflating 1996 A-level English grades to meet the expectations of the top fee-paying schools which use their syllabuses. But SCAA now faces legal action from examiners who say they have been scapegoated.
This week a spokesman for David Blunkett, shadow education minister, said: "The case for a single exam board becomes stronger by the week. Parents, pupils, business and universities want to know exactly what a grade means and they want assurance that all exam papers are being set and marked in the same way."
Labour has seized the initiative from Gillian Shephard, education secretary, who confirmed in the wake of the scandal that she would initiate consultation on the issue in the near future.
Brian Martin, a principal examiner at the centre of the OCSEB marking scandal and head of English at Magdalene College School in Oxford, has admitted that the Oxford and Cambridge exam board, which he has now left, was "in a horrendous mess".
Dr Martin blamed "quasi-civil servants" at SCAA for creating a chaotic environment, and said that his board had been made a scapegoat in a politically motivated episode that illustrates all the more clearly the need for a single exam body. "A free market in exams is totally out of place," he said John Saunders, the board's chief examiner who resigned in July 1996 warning that administrative changes meant that he could no longer guarantee fairness, is consulting his lawyer with a view to suing SCAA for libel.
"I am meeting the other senior examiners on Saturday to discuss our options," he confirmed. "SCAA in effect had totally demolished our examination. We had to do the whole thing in semi-darkness because they had put out the lights, and then they accused us of dastardly behaviour."
Tony Millns, SCAA assistant chief executive, said that he had taken legal advice before releasing details of the scrutiny report and was confident that there were no grounds for libel. "Dr Saunders can take whatever action he chooses," he said.