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Pilloried examiners get a public apology

An exam board has accepted that public school candidates did not benefit from lax A-level marking. Nicholas Pyke reports

Five examiners famously accused of bumping up the A-level results of public school candidates are celebrating victory over the giant University of Cambridge board.

The five achieved notoriety last year after savage criticism from the government's curriculum quango and the Secretary of State.

But this week their former employer staged a dramatic climbdown. The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) apologised for any damage to their professional reputations and agreed compensation, believed to be substantial.

The out-of-court settlement was reached shortly before an industrial tribunal hearing for unfair dismissal.

The five examiners had lost their jobs amid claims that they revised students' grades upwards, to put them in line with predicted results. Most candidates at the Oxford and Cambridge board (part of UCLES) came from public schools.

The uproar reached a crescendo last year with an unprecedented report from the then School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. This said that examiners' lax standards led to "unjustified and unsupported" top grades.

The then education secretary Gillian Shephard attacked the examining team while Labour spokesman, David Blunkett, called for the Oxford and Cambridge board to be abolished.

But in a new twist, the UCLES board appears to have conceded that the five examiners did nothing wrong. In a statement released this week, it says: "it has been jointly agreed that in 1996 (the) A-level English literature awarders followed established procedures and protocols which had been in place for a number of years.

"UCLES regrets any damage that has been occasioned to the professional reputations of the awarders."

The examiners have maintained from the start that the chaotic adjustment of A-level grades was caused by a lack of computer support from UCLES, not by their own sloppiness.

Brian Martin, head of English at Magdalene College School, Oxford, and one of the examiners, said this week: "We're very satisfied. We were insisting all the way through that there had to be some public statement to clear our professional reputation. That has happened."

But the examiners remain sore about last year's damaging publicity. There has been no apology from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority - now renamed the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Brian Martin is particularly angry that SCAA's damning report on the English A-level has never been published in full.

For their own part the examiners, led by Dr John Saunders, have argued that computerised marking schemes penalise candidates who produce innovative answers. They believe that all border-line candidates deserve exhaustive reconsideration in case imaginative answers have been wrongly marked down.

Neither side is willing to comment on the exact detail of the settlement. A spokesman for UCLES would say only:"We now consider the matter to be closed."

The chaos at the Oxford and Cambridge board began in 1996 with the introduction of new officially standardised marking regulations.

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