Catastrophe at key stage 3

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
One thing is very clear in your report of key stage 3 English test marking (TES, October 8): terms like "operational difficulties" and "administrative problems" fall way short of explaining the national scandal of inaccurate marking of the tests over many years. Horror stories concerning KS3 test marking abound wherever English teachers gather, and your article gives several. In the case of my school, we have had to have papers for the entire year group remarked on four occasions, including each of the past three years. On every occasion, more than 50 pupils have had their levels increased.

What your article does not address is the damaging effect that inaccurate marking has on schools. The main victims, of course, are the pupils, many of whom work very hard in preparation for the tests. English staff, too, in my department dread the arrival in July of the results, knowing that, in all likelihood, we face a sustained public relations campaign explaining to pupils, parents, managers and governors that once again the scripts have been wrongly marked and that if we can all be patient we should get the correct results by October. Meanwhile, days are spent putting together the appeal, and target-setting for GCSE goes on hold until we have correct data to work with.

And what of the KS3 strategy? Up and down the country, LEA English advisers are urging schools to raise performance from level 3 at KS2 to level 5 at KS3; classrooms are plastered with displays headed "In order to get a Level 5 I need to..."; teachers are running booster classes and other literacy intervention programmes. If we cannot rely on progress being accurately assessed, who can blame teachers who question the point of it all?

Robert Penman

Head of English, Katherine Lady Berkeley's school

Wotton-under-Edge Gloucestershire

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