English scripts sent back for remarking

Diane Hofkins

Anger over the English test results for 14-year-olds intensified this week as 11 out of 12 secondary schools in Gateshead prepared to send back their papers for remarking.

Headteacher groups across the North were co-ordinating their protests and local authority inspectors and chief education officers added their voices, as it became increasingly clear that it is not just scattered individual schools which are dissatisfied with their pupils' marks.

John Lea, secretary of the Gateshead Association of Heads, said his colleagues had agreed to send all the papers back to the National Examinations and Assessment Board, and would publish the results of teachers' own assessment instead.

Mr Lea, head of Whickham comprehensive, said he had sent a sample of scripts back to the board expressing his "most serious concern", adding, "in no way can I reconcile these results as representative". He would now be sending the rest of the English papers back, "and asking for a remarking at the board's expense".

Under the current appeals procedure, schools are advised to send a sample of up to 10 papers, and told they will be reimbursed for all of them if at least one is found to need remarking. Appeals cost Pounds 5 per script.

The National Association of Teachers of English is urging all schools who are unhappy with the results to appeal. NATE has put a series of questions to Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, and is waiting for her response.

They want to know who the external markers were and what training they had, when the final statistics on appeals will be released, how many schools have appealed and how many changes to grades were made as a result.

Ann Barnes, general secretary of NATE, said English was very difficult to mark, and the external markers did not have enough experience, training or supervision. "The papers are much improved since last year and quite sophisticated, but they do need expert marking," she said.

Complaints of "unreliable and haphazard" results have arisen across the country, with too severe marking as the most common. Schools tell of bright students with low marks, less able students with high marks, and a general levelling out toward the middle levels.

Teachers point to pupils with lower levels than they were given at age 11, and poor scores on tests at 14 despite excellent GCSE records. Schools have also complained of unfinished marking, incorrect adding up and other clerical errors.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said heads he had spoken to in Humberside felt it was "a complete and utter mess", and that the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority would have to take urgent action to remedy the situation.

"There were those who felt the results were so ludicrously out of line that they ought to appeal. Others felt the whole thing should simply be ignored, " he said.

David White, English inspectoradviser in Cumbria, said: "In one school which always gets very good exam results, a number of their key stage 3 pupils received a lower level in English at 14 than they were given under teacher assessment at 11. That causes all kinds of issues and problems."

Heads of English in his authority were drafting a letter setting out their concerns.

Sunderland secondary heads were also arranging protests. Some were sending all their papers back and others were filing appeals. The chief inspector and the director of education have written to NEAB and SCAA, saying that some schools would expect total or partial remarking. All the secondary schools will write as well.

Stockport chief education officer Max Hunt has advised schools to treat the English results with "very great care" when giving them to parents, but points out they are legally obliged to report them. "These results are not reliable, " he said. "While I believe heads are very clearly obliged in law to pass these results on to parents, we owe it to them to put them in perspective."

He wrote to SCAA chief executive Nick Tate after a survey of local schools pointed to general problems about reliability, and said the reply, which noted the concerns and explained the trialling of the tests and training of the markers, was "unsatisfactory".

Mr Hunt said: "Frankly, for SCAA to be saying to individual schools, 'you can lay out some money to have scripts remarked' is not good enough."

A great deal of money had already been spent on testing, and school budgets were "sorely pressed".

A spokeswoman for SCAA said as of Tuesday they had received appeals from 321 schools. Of those, 112 had sent a sample of papers for reconsideration -meaning they were generally unhappy - 140 were individual appeals and 69 were clerical.

She said it was too early to draw any conclusions until the results of the appeals and their number were known.

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