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`Incompetent' marks lead to mass upgrades

A Basingstoke comprehensive school which sent back its national curriculum English tests for 14-year-olds for remarking has learned that two-thirds of the papers have been upgraded.

Cranbourne Comprehensive was one of 900 secondary schools - one in seven - which appealed because they thought the marking had been unfair. Government exams advisers have not yet compiled figures of the results. There is anecdotal evidence that many papers have been upgraded, although there are likely to be few cases as extreme as Cranbourne's.

Headteacher Terry Ayres said eight of the papers had been upgraded by two levels on the eight-level scale - "a whole key stage out". He said, "It's amazing incompetence. I am simmering with anger."

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has written to schools admitting there were problems with the tests. A letter from SCAA chairman Sir Ron Dearing confirms criticism that the external markers, used for the first time this year, erred toward the middle. "In 1995 the criteria at levels 6 and 7 (above average) tended to be interpreted too severely, and there was also evidence of leniency at level 4." SCAA will be improving the marking scheme and procedures, and will ensure a fairer deal for pupils just below level borderlines.

However, Anne Barnes, general secretary of the National Association of Teachers of English, warned, "Mark schemes are only as good as the people who use them."

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