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No accounting for exam board marking

As head of business education at King George V School Hong Kong I teach some extremely able and highly-committed students. The examination results that are achieved by some of the students can only be described as outstanding.

I was therefore very surprised to find that this year my students in GCSE accounting failed to achieve any A* grades at all.

What had gone wrong? Last year 40 per cent of our candidates achieved A* grade in this subject. We had changed to the Northern Examiniations and Assessment Board after our previous board had withdrawn the subject. Had my colleague and I simply failed to cover the new syllabus in sufficient depth? In the competitive atmosphere of Hong Kong these questions had to be tackled as someone would soon be asking them of me.

The answer arrived with the statistical breakdown of the results from the NEAB. It was all very simple; the maximum mark achievable in the examination was 200 and the lowest mark for an A* grade was 201. Surely this could not be right. I faxed a letter to the board that day asking for an explanation.

I now have a two-page reply which describes how the awarding committee arrives at the grade boundaries and by following the arithmetical formula in the rules laid down by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority they are correct; the grade boundary for an A* is indeed one more mark above the full marks available for the paper.

My problem is how to explain this to Shruti and her parents. Her 194 marks out of 200, 97 per cent under examination conditions, is not good enough for the top grade. If she wants that, she must work harder and achieve 105 per cent This is unacceptable with any subject but in accounting it goes against the basic concepts that I have been teaching.

In accounting we have various rules or concepts that should be followed, they must however be set aside when their compliance would not represent a "true and fair" picture. In this case I cannot see how the board's compliance with the rule could ever be said to be fair to my students.

I have lost confidence in the awarding committee's ability to deal with the examination of my students, but with their flair for "creative accounting" I wonder if they would like to tackle my tax return next year.

M JACKMAN Head of business education King George V School 2 Tin Kwong Road Kowloon Hong Kong

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