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400 seconds to mark four months' work

Examiner resigns after being instructed to mark AS-level Shakespeare papers in six minutes. Warwick Mansell reports

TEACHERS working for one of England's major exam boards are being asked to mark AS-level papers at the rate of up to one every six minutes, The TES has learned.

Edexcel is allocating examiners 400 scripts for the Shakespeare unit of its AS-level this summer. They are expected to spend 40 to 50 hours on the marking, which equates to one paper every six to seven-and-a-half minutes.

The board has denied that the situation is solely the result of the shortage of examiners. But it admits asking examiners to mark more papers in English this year.

Adam Oliver, who teaches English at an Oxfordshire comprehensive, said he was resigning as an examiner because he did not think he would have time do justice to students' work.

Mr Oliver, 35, who would have been in his second year as an examiner, said that last year he had been allocated 260 scripts, marking one every 12 to 15 minutes. Edexcel had given him 400 scripts this year and no option to mark fewer papers.

He said this would have been "unachievable" for someone marking at his speed. Students write one essay for the one-hour paper, typically of 1,000 words.

An experienced English GCSE examiner from another board, who asked not to be named, supported Mr Oliver. He said: "I have been marking for many years, and I only do between six and eight papers an hour. My own board allows people to ask for a reduced allocation."

In his resignation letter, Mr Oliver wrote: "What AS-level script can be fairly and accurately assessed, with written comments, in just six minutes? I feel obliged to withdraw from a system that reduces the equivalent of three or four months of student preparation to less than 400 seconds of assessment."

An Edexcel spokesman said that for the Shakespeare unit, experienced markers were expected to mark 400 scripts in 40-50 hours. He could not give details of allocations for other subjects, but said they varied between 250 and 400 scripts. Markers could not opt for fewer papers as it was too costly to have lots of examiners marking small numbers of scripts.

The OCR board said the standard allocation for its Shakespeare AS paper was 200 scripts, but that it could negotiate extra numbers with examiners. AQA said it could not give a number. Allocations were negotiated with examiners and took their experience into account.

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