The head of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has resigned after a scathing report into the organisation's handling of the 2004 high school scholarship exams.

Professor Graeme Fraser advised the Government of his decision in a letter to associate education minister David Benson-Pope.

NZQA had a "significant task ahead" as it sought to resolve difficulties with the exams, he wrote.

"I believe the way forward would be assisted by the appointment of a chair of the Qualifications Authority who can devote his or her time and energy to the challenges before it."

Professor Fraser's resignation was to take effect at noon today.

It comes after the State Services Commission issued a highly critical report, which identified deficiencies in both the policy advice and implementation of the exams.

In February, the Government ordered a review of the NZQA's performance in managing the New Zealand Scholarship exams after fewer scholarships were handed out than expected and results varied widely between subjects.

That review, undertaken by former public servant Doug Martin, was completed last week and was issued this morning by the SSC.

It said the NZQA was aware there would be significant variations in results, but was not aware that the variation would be a surprise to anyone else.

In the exams, science passes were particularly hard to come by. Far higher numbers of art students passed in their subjects.

The report says NZQA's approach was in contrast to its previous handling of former school qualifications such as School Certificate where a decision was made whether unscaled results were within "professional public tolerances".

The organisation completely failed to see that wide variability in scholarship results could undermine the credibility of the exams.

The report also says the Government received inadequate policy advice on risks associated with the 2004 scholarship and on introducing the new scholarship regime and level 3 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).

Further analysis might have resulted in changes being made for the 2004 scholarship exams which were later implemented after publicity was focused on its failures, it said.

As a result of NZQA's failures many students and teachers were not adequately prepared for the exams.

The report says that in many areas there was insufficient support for teachers and as a result many teachers were unaware of what the exams would require.

The NZQA failed to put together a comprehensive implementation plan that involved monitoring risks and the progress of the new exams.
In some areas the NZQA failed to seek further advice from the Education Ministry when it should have.

The report also says the ministry, along with NZQA, should have paid far greater attention to educating the public that there would be greater variability in results than in previous years -- due to the fact the new scholarship exams were standards based and not scaled to achieve comparability across subjects or years.

Key recommendations of the report include:

* that the Education Ministry take the lead in ensuring the 2005 exams are properly co-ordinated;

* that the ministry and NZQA clearly identify risks relating to the 2005 exams and tell the Government;

* that the two agencies extend the pool of examiners and markers;

* consistent guidelines for marking panels on different subjects;

* an earlier start to examinations and a later release of results;

* more training for teachers;

* a public information campaign; and

* a "hot line" between education agencies and Associate Education Minister David Benson-Pope over the Christmas holidays to keep him abreast of problems.

Mr Benson-Pope said the review was forthright and would go a long way to restoring public confidence in scholarship exams.

It confirmed many of the changes the Government had already made since the furore about last year's exam results.

The review provided guidance to both the NZQA and the Education Ministry for 2005 and future years.

"Both agencies have to accept criticism around their failure to communicate risks and expectations, to the Government, to the education sector and to the general public," Mr Benson-Pope said in a statement.

However, NZQA had to accept the "lion's share" of the blame.

He assured the public the recommendations would be implemented.

A separate report on the NZQA's wider systems and processes is to be completed by July 31.