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Revolution planned for exam marking

Qualifications chief wants to fund network of secure centres and end 'cottage industry' for teachers

A revolution designed to bring exam marking into the 21st century is being planned by the head of the Government's examinations watchdog.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said in an interview with The TES that he intends to ask Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, for extra cash to fund a nationwide network of marking centres. And he believes that the vast majority of GCSEswww could be assessed by teachers.

The blunt Australian, who has described the present marking arrangements as "a cottage industry", believes reform is vital to overcome the shortage of examiners and to restore the credibility of public examinations after this summer's A-level results fiasco.

He wants to end twilight marking carried out by teachers on their kitchen tables and replace it with supervised, daytime grading. In the long-term marking national exam papers could be a requirement of the job for teachers, but they would be trained and paid as part of their salaries.

Marking centres would mean that scripts would no longer be sent, and possibly lost, in the post. Cheating would be impossible and marking would be quicker.

Teachers would grade scripts under the supervision of a senior examiner during the school day. Different questions on the same paper might be marked by different people.

Dr Boston said: "Marking centres are not uncommon in other parts of the world. People mark intensively under supervision. Efficiency is increased. It is more secure because not a paper leaves the building. It produces results in a shorter time. We would have to find some appropriate financial basis for it."

He hopes some marking centres will be piloted for next summer's exams and that more will follow swiftly. "It's not a huge logistical issue," he said.

His scheme is prompted by the urgent need to find more A-level examiners. For the January exams, the awarding bodies have recruited 6,000 of the 7,500 examiners they require. For the summer they will need 50,000, and he admits this is "a pretty tall order".

He said: "There should be some sort of job redesign which places marking and assessment into the professional life of the teacher with appropriate remuneration as part of the overall salary package."

GCSE and A-level examiners earn about pound;10 to pound;12 an hour. There is significant variation in the fee per script (pound;2 to pound;3), how many scripts are examined and in what timescale.

Dr Boston is convinced that teachers should be trusted to assess their pupils' work and that the future lies with chartered examiners, registered teachers in every secondary who monitor marking. Most of GCSE, increased elements of AS-level and even parts of A2 could be marked by teachers if the papers were externally set and moderated, he said. He has asked to be briefed on arrangements in parts of France, where a squad of teachers from one school goes to the school next door to mark exams.

He accepts concerns by ministers and universities about the need to differentiate between those who score A grades at A-level but his solution is not an A* or a special paper: "My personal view is that it would be better to publish the marks."

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