Board censured for 'strict marking'

20th November 1998 at 00:00
Ombudsman's decision on A-level results came too late for pupils who lost university places, reports Sarah Cassidy

THE EXAM board condemned in 1996 for giving extra English A-level marks to public-school candidates has now been censured for excessively strict marking.

The exams ombudsman has ruled against the Oxford and Cambridge exam board after a complaint from St George's College, an independent school in Weybridge, Surrey. St George's has fought a 14-month battle to have its 1997 A-level English marks upgraded.

But Auden Witter, head of English at St George's, said the decision had come too late for 34 pupils who were forced to settle for their second-choice course or university. He said: "Any appeal process needs to be settled quickly enough to benefit the students. The distress they have suffered cannot be trivialised. The board has been hugely incompetent in its handling of our case and delayed its resolution."

The appeals authority has now ordered all 60 of the college's Shakespeare papers be re-marked and has condemned the board for a catalogue of errors and delays.

College staff appealed after half of their 1997 A-level English candidates dropped a grade because of surprisingly low marks in the Shakespeare paper.

The Oxford and Cambridge Examinations and Assessment Council (OCEAC) first hit the headlines when it was found to have been unduly influenced by candidates' predicted grades for A-level English in 1996. At the appeal, St George's staff were astonished to learn their 1996 candidates had received marks for questions they had not attempted and scores had been inflated by up to 25 marks.

The board argued 1997's results were bound to appear poor in comparison but the appeals authority upheld the school's complaint and judged the marking unreliable. The papers will be remarked by OCEAC under the supervision of another board's senior examiner.

St George's case was only the 11th relating to 1997 GCSE and A-level results to be heard by the Independent Appeals Authority for School Examinations and the fourth to be upheld.

Two previous appeals relating to the board's 1997 English A-level were unsuccessful but produced damning reports which criticised the exam board's poor management and delays in re-marking scripts.

Last year's reduction in As and Bs produced a 350 per cent rise in the number of enquiries. According to the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, there was "considerable disquiet" among the board's mainly private school clientele. The board has consistently argued that a move to modular assessment in 1997 produced a strong pull towards the C grade and away from grades A and E. Many schools claim that only the top grades suffered.

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