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Mark my words

Many heads of English will have been aghast as I was upon perusing the key stage 3 test results. In my school's case, they bore no resemblance to our rigorously moderated teacher assessments, and no relationship to the very considerable achievement our pupils attain at GCSE level.

Over the past year, like me, you will have noticed those numerous requests from examination boards for assistant markers: key stage 2, key stage 3 and key stage 4. That was a sign and many of us detected the fault lines which inevitably, have caused the tremors reverberating today and, unfortunately, tomorrow.

Experienced markers are a rare breed, and possibly on the verge of extinction. Whatever the checks and balances, it take some time to train a marker, particularly a marker of English or English Literature where the assessment of lengthy essays requires both judgment and experience, as well as a mark scheme.

It was difficult enough to swell the ranks when three separate papers and coursework required marking at GCSE level. Add to this thousands of schools testing at key stage 3 and the task of finding experienced markers becomes Olympian.

Mark schemes, team leaders and sampling arrangements are in place, of course, to ensure that marking is accurate but can never ensure consistency when so many new markers are absorbed into the system. You cannot convey experience, judgment and consistency in a couple of training sessions.

Unfortunately, the tremors don't subside at key stage 3. Some experienced markers have deserted key stage 4 in favour of key stage 3. Additionally, by all accounts the turnover of markers from last year is worryingly high. There were mistakes last year and there is every sign that there will be more this year with devastating results.

The current inadequate and unfair arrangements for key stage 3 assessment have jeopardised the entire structure at key stage 4. If something is not done soon, the entire edifice will, no doubt collapse.

R J DE MARCO Head of English John Taylor High School Barton under Needwood Staffordshire

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