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Boards dismiss doubts over on-screen marking

Exam boards are to press on with plans to computerise the marking of millions of GCSE and A-level papers over the next three years, despite senior examiners' doubts.

On-screen marking, which involves scanning scripts and then emailing them to examiners to be marked at home, is developing an unstoppable momentum.

Most scripts are likely to be marked on-screen by 2007.

Edexcel, which scanned more than a million GCSE and A-level papers this year, is expected later this month to announce a big expansion of the pilot for next summer's exams.

England's two other boards and the Welsh Joint Education Committee have also recently announced big changes to marking.

Yet a new study by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, parent body of one of Edexcel's rivals, the OCR board, shows that experienced markers are still sceptical. Small groups of senior examiners in four A-level subjects, who were given a glimpse earlier this year of the new system, expressed a string of reservations.

They preferred to mark entire scripts, even though a key element of the new system will mean splitting up most papers so that each examiner focuses on specific questions.

They worried about the need constantly to adjust to different handwriting and that marking answers question-by-question would give them fewer insights to feed back into their teaching.

And they worried that the scope the new systems give for better monitoring by the boards of markers' work could carry "Big Brother" overtones for examiners.

A review of recent research on the subject carried out by the same team at UCLES suggested that on-screen marking could be at least as reliable as traditional methods.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which believes on-screen marking has many advantages, including being more accurate than conventional methods and making better use of examiners, is enthusiastically backing the expansion.

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