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Exam scripts go online for marks

Millions of GCSE and A-level scripts are to be marked on-screen this summer as the computerisation of Britain's exam system gathers pace, despite reservations from some examiners.

The privatised Edexcel board is leading the way with plans to use on-screen marking for 3 million papers - 60 per cent of all the answers pupils will provide for its exams this summer, and three times last year's figure.

Some 198 Edexcel papers, including GCSEs, academic and vocational A-levels and general national vocational qualifications will be scanned electronically.

They will then be emailed to examiners for marking. Marks are totalled by the computer and the annotated scripts viewed by the board for moderation.

At OCR, on-screen marking is being used for the first time on a large scale this year after the Cambridge-based board entered into a partnership with computer firm RM. Some 500,000 GCSE and A-level papers are to be processed electronically.

At AQA, about 400,000 papers will be marked on-screen.

In Wales, the WJEC is using on-screen marking for some exam papers in GCSE maths, ICT and AS-level computing.

Gareth Pierce, chief executive of the Welsh exams board, said technology should be used to "enhance the style of assessment, not change it". He does not want to see assessment reduced to multiple-choice tick boxes.

But electronic scanning of papers for on-screen assessment by markers is appropriate for some subjects, he believes. Heads in Wales will attend WJEC conferences next week on e-marking and assessment.

The boards are backed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in England. It says the technology ensures accuracy as all marks are totalled automatically. It means the boards can track scripts as they progress through the system, and monitor examiners' work as they mark.

It could also speed up the process. Edexcel said it could have released its results a week early last August thanks to its e-marking trial. But this pilot project hit problems last year.

About 100,000 of the 1 million scripts due to be emailed to examiners had to be transferred to conventional marking after a computer system crashed.

Leading private-school heads have warned that scanning scripts and then getting examiners to mark individual questions will lead to "dumbing down".

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