Can we trust these marks?

18th July 2003 at 01:00
Row over way English tests for 14-year-olds were graded hots up as thousands of papers are sent back, report Emily Clark and Warwick Mansell

SCHOOLS are requesting thousands of re-marks of this year's key stage 3 English tests following complaints from teachers.

As The TES revealed last week, many schools have reported doubts about the reliability of results awarded under a new mark scheme, which is much more prescriptive.

This week, TES enquiries to 21 secondaries found 12 were sending all or part of their cohort's papers back for re-marking, a total of 1,710.

This is despite the rules on re-marks being much more exacting this year.

Schools now have to analyse each script and identify why they think a mark was wrong before they send it back.

The tests have been dogged by controversy since teachers protested they got samples too late to plan properly. Example tests were only sent to schools in December.

A TES straw poll of 25 schools last week found the proportion of youngsters gaining level 5 rose from 64 to 69 per cent.

However, other schools have complained of big drops in marks.

Higher-ability pupils, in particular, have suffered from the over-rigorous mark scheme, many teachers said.

In Harrow, north London, the heads of English of 10 schools have written a joint letter to parents describing the tests as "academically unsound".

At Forest Hill school, south London, the results were higher in writing than reading even though the head of English said he knew the pupils were better at reading.

Michael Naisbitt, head of Carlton le Willows school, Nottinghamshire, has written to Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, to complain about the inconsistency of his results.

"We have children who were predicted level 5 getting level 7, and children who were expected to get level 7 who have ended up with level 5," he said.

St Anselm's college, Birkenhead, is sending back all 130 scripts. Several markers have complained on The TES website about the difficulties they had with the scripts, with one describing the mark scheme as "ludicrous".

Many schools have complained about the English test in the past. Last year 442 schools sent all their pupils' papers back for re-marking. But most schools have been more critical this year.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said 102 schools had so far requested re-marks for all their pupils' papers. Last year, the total figure was 362.

Additional reporting Genevra Fletcher and Athalie Matthews


Kate Chapman, head of English at Hornsey school, north London, has sent back all 250 of her key stage 3 scripts for re-marking.

With only 66 per cent achieving level 5 and above, she is convinced the marking is at fault. She said: "The marking scheme really shocked us. There have been some awful inconsistencies. There were no annotations and it seems to have been completely rushed."

Ms Chapman, a teacher for 20 years, found that a lot of children went unrewarded for efforts that did not conform exactly to marking requirements. Examiners looked for specific words and awarded nothing for paraphrasing. Also, like many teachers she said that the short questions on the writing test were "boring" and gave the students no opportunity to prove their intelligence.

Ms Chapman said: "A number of students are weeping about their results. It is unfair to put them through this stress. They have been let down."

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