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Technology to modernise cottage marking industry

THE "cottage industry" of test marking at home could be transformed to allow teachers to view pupils' scripts online at marking centres.

The exam watchdog is in the early stages of investigating whether computer technology can improve the collection and marking of 16 million national test papers and the delivery of 21,000 results to schools.

A total of 11,000 teachers mark papers every year, earning an average of pound;900.

In a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority trial last year, about 4,000 new progress tests, taken by 12-year-olds, were marked collectively. Twenty teachers were taken to a centre over two weeks to mark scripts scanned on to computers. Marking was supervised and monitored for quality.

The computer added up scores and allocated grades.

It is hoped technology will provide more dependable marking and eradicate clerical errors. The accuracy of teachers marking at home will be compared with those based centrally.

Graham Hudson, QCA external marking manager, said: "This is not about replacing markers with computers or replacing pen and paper tests. It is about exploring how computers, IT and digital technology can support testing without changing it."

As The TES revealed last year, online advances could eventually allow pupils to sit tests when they are ready, instead of over one week when they are seven, 11 and 14. The QCA's new world-class tests for nine and 13-year-olds are available four times a year. Computer testing could also reduce the burden by cutting the length of tests because questions can be more closely related to a pupil's ability.

Martin Ripley, QCA's new projects manager, said: "We are looking at new technological advances and trends. It is tempting to say technology will solve all the problems of testing but we have to look at whether it could add to the burden or increase teacher workload."

Exam experts are attending a QCA conference today to discuss the future of testing. Tham Yoke Chun, from the Singapore education ministry, will address delegates about how the UK can learn from the use of IT in the Far East.

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