Exam boards wrong to keep scripts secret

2nd June 1995 at 01:00
I was interested to read the recent article by Linda Blackburne which drew attention to the difficulties schools face when attempting to challenge examination results (TES, May 12).

As far as my school's experience is concerned, I would stress the importance of allowing schools access to scripts when a prima facie cause for concern has been established.

In this connection I was saddened - though not surprised - by the remarks attributed to Peter Clare, acting secretary to the Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations. His assertion that "no one outside the system could pass a judgment on how the script had been marked" is all too typical a response to the worries of schools which fear that their candidates may not have received the grades they deserve.

The implications of Mr Clare's statement are quite astounding, in that it is assumed that the professionals charged with preparing pupils for examination are incapable of judging the quality of their candidates' answers. If this were the case, we would be incapable of offering pupils intelligent advice on the basis of the practice questions they attempt prior to the actual examinations.

I would remind Mr Clare that teachers attend consortium meetings, scrutinise sample marking material produced by the boards, and study the boards' mark schemes. Many have direct experience of marking GCSE and A-level scripts.

It seems to me that the boards' reluctance to allow scrutiny of marked scripts arises from fears as to what will be uncovered. In our case, we discovered major discrepancies between the judgment of two senior University of London Examinations and Assessment Council examiners. Indeed, if we had not gained access to the scripts we would not have discovered arithmetical errors, which ULEAC's checking procedures had not brought to light. As the boards will soon be returning the marked national tests scripts to schools, might one hope for a more open and enlightened attitude to examinations that are far more significant?

During recent months, many schools have contacted me as a result of the publicity given to our case in The TES and elsewhere. Their concerns have helped to confirm my belief that the teaching profession must now demand an examination and assessment system that is fully accountable and fairly conducted. In English in particular I suspect that the system is in a state of unacknowledged crisis.

Parents and pupils have the right to expect the boards to work with teachers to ensure that justice is seen to be done.

P J BRENNAN

Head of English The Latymer School Haslebury Road Edmonton, London N9

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