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Marking fiasco prompts overhaul

Changes in timing and checking of KS3 English results to prevent further chaos, reports Warwick Mansell.

Pupils' key stage 3 English test scripts will not be returned to teachers until after the end of the school year, under safeguards recommended to prevent the fiasco surrounding this year's results.

In future, schools would only receive each pupil's overall national curriculum level by the end of the summer term, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has recommended.

Scripts would be sent back later, allowing more time for suspect results to be investigated by test authorities before schools have to decide whether or not to appeal.

The proposed extra checks, yet to be accepted in detail by the QCA, include:

* One marker to mark half of a school's reading scripts, and another to mark the other half. The same to happen in writing. Test regulators to investigate any large disparities between the two markers'

results.

* The marking agency to compare each school's results against its achievements from previous years, again checking for any large disparities.

* In the long term, schools to be able to use teacher assessment results for each pupil when preparing marking appeals.

The report also suggests pupils' scripts should be double-marked when their results fall near the borderline of two levels.

This year, results from both the reading and writing papers had to be totalled before deciding whether or not the script was to be double-marked.

In future, any script falling near this borderline for either reading or writing will be double-checked, before any overall result is calculated.

Schools have long raised worries about the accuracy of marking for KS3 English, with many complaining of big swings in results from year to year.

The inquiry team did not call into doubt the quality of the marking in this year's tests. But it did say that the current way the QCA monitors marking quality - waiting to see if the number of school appeals increased - was unreliable.

The changes are all recommended in the report which led to last week's resignation of Jonathon Ford as managing director of the National Assessment Agency. However, the NAA said this week that the suggested changes could not be introduced before 2006. It will be writing to schools early next year detailing exactly how the test administration will change.

David Gee, Mr Ford's former deputy has become acting managing director.

Ken Boston, QCA chief executive, is to be questioned on the fiasco by MPs on the education select committee in the new year.

The Public and Commercial Services union has written to Dr Boston complaining about management styles within the QCA, which, it said, varied from "laissez-faire" to "autocratic" and had contributed to the authority's problems.

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