One in seven sends back test papers

Diane Hofkins

More than one-in-seven secondary schools have sent back national curriculum English test papers for re-marking, the latest Government figures show. Following widespread complaints about overly-hard or inconsistent marking of the English tests for 14-year-olds, 906 schools out of 6,500 have appealed against the results - usually for more than one pupil.

A further 301 secondary schools have returned tests because of clerical errors.

Thousands of external markers were hired by exam boards, under contract with the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, to mark tests for 11 and 14 year-olds, as the Government sought to make peace with teachers complaining of excessive workload last year.

But SCAA must now sort out the difficulties in time for next year's tests. "We are looking at what are the appropriate measures for next year", said a spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, 799 primary schools sought English test re-marking for 11-year-olds, with a further 469 complaining about clerical errors. SCAA says this is a much smaller proportion than for key stage three, since there are 18,000 primaries, and adds that more of the appeals are for only one pupil's result.

But the National Association for the Teaching of English believes that at least twice as many secondary schools are unhappy with the results, but chose not to appeal, and that the primary appeals represent only the tip of the iceberg. Terry Furlong, NATE's membership secretary, said some secondary pupils were taking their lower-than-expected results as a forecast of GCSE, "and that caused a lot of distress".

One secondary school which disputes that the key stage 3 results are a pointer to later exam results is Bishop Stopford school in Kettering, Northamptonshire, where 82.5 per cent of pupils gained A-C in their English A-levels, and 92 per cent and 77.5 per cent achieved A-C on their English literature and language GCSEs respectively.

But the school has written to parents, saying they have had to hold back the English results at 14, because papers had been marked by six different markers "who have not been applying the mark scheme in a reliable or consistent manner - the levels awarded cannot be depended upon in themselves, nor can comparisons be made either within or beyond the school." They have asked the Midland Examining Group to have the set re-marked.

In the test, 89 children (out of 195) received level 5 (the average level), compared with 70 in teachers' own assessments. Some 52 were given level 7 by their teachers, but only one gained that level on the test.

Priory Middle School has written to SCAA and the Department for Education and Employment to protest about the key stage 2 English tests (see left). "If schools and pupils are to be judged on the basis of such incompetent and inconsistent marking, then the whole SATs (test) exercise is a sham and a disgrace, masquerading as standardisation", they say. Although the school was returning only one paper, because the child's final level was affected, they say others reveal "the same degree of unreliable marking".

The school says the errors are so serious that the entire set should be remarked at the marking agency's expense. SCAAsaid the complaints were being fed into evaluations by Price Waterhouse and Bath University.

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