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Exam revamp will be teacher-led

Warwick Mansell reports on a project where staff assess pupils' classroom performance

New GCSEs in which teachers award marks to pupils based on their day-to-day work in lessons are being trialled by England's qualifications regulator.

In a possible foretaste of the future of exams, teachers are grading their pupils in a pilot GCSE in geography and will start assessing them for a new history exam to be launched next year.

Support is growing for the use of internal assessment in schools as an alternative to end-of-course exams and traditional coursework. The Tomlinson review of 14-19 qualifications is recommending more teacher assessment and fewer exams.

However, teachers' leaders are cautious about the proposal.

Chris Keates, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the union had written to Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, raising concerns about the impact of exam changes on the workload agreement.

She said: "We have asked for a complete review of the advice and guidance given to schools, particularly in relation to assessment and annotation."

In the one-year geography GCSE pilot, launched last September in 18 schools, two of the seven optional modules are being internally assessed by teachers.

Teachers mark pupils' work throughout the course against specific criteria, and then attend standardisation meetings, where the exam boards check they are marking accurately.

In recent years, "teacher assessment" in schools has meant formal coursework, in which exam boards and the QCA stipulate tasks for pupils, who then spend hours drafting and redrafting their work.

Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector wants a drastic reduction in these projects in favour of less onerous assessment.

Less formal coursework featured in the old CSEs and some O-level syllabuses, and in the early days of the GCSE.

The QCA has not said that pilots will definitely lead to more teacher assessment in other exams, but Ken Boston, its chief executive, said last month that this was a key area of investigation.

And last week, a leading QCA figure said that national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds should be dropped in favour of teacher assessment.

Jackie Bawden, QCA head of testing, said that the key stage 2 tests could be phased out after the general election.

Asked at the Education Show in Birmingham whether the tests would be cut back, Ms Bawden said: "We would like to do it but my feeling is that it will not happen until after the next election - it is a political issue. We do want to build a balance between tests and teacher assessment."

The NASUWT warned this week that internal assessment of new learning skills tests could lead to a huge increase in workload.

The scheme has been proposed as a replacement for key stage 2 tests in Wales.

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