Fewer exams may improve the marking

21st March 2008 at 00:00
A teacher is awarded pound;165,000 after tripping over a maypole. Another is awarded pound;85,000 after she is assaulted by a primary pupil with a history of violence.

Very few of our readers would dispute staff who sustain serious injury at work as a result of negligence have the right to be properly compensated, especially if it has caused suffering or threatened career prospects.

Such awards also provide a financial incentive to employers (schools) to look after the health and safety of their staff. If they do not, they risk being sued.

The same principle could soon apply to exam boards. Ministers are thinking about giving the new exams regulator, Ofqual, the power to recommend compensation for candidates who are given the wrong exam grades. This would give exam boards a clear inducement to improve their marking accuracy, which all teachers would welcome.

The problem, of course, is that the cost of any compensation could ultimately be passed to schools in the form of higher examination fees. So it is not just the exam boards that would be penalised.

Secondary schools already spend more on exams than on books for their pupils - a fact that speaks volumes about our national priorities for education. The Government would do better to scale back the number of exams and tests pupils take and invest more in books. Some of the savings could be spent on improving the marking system, in part by paying markers a professional fee to do a thoroughly professional job.

If this could be achieved, there would be no need to worry about the cost of compensation claims. Our exam system is already one of the most carefully managed in the world. The real trouble is the sheer volume.

The exam boards are also right to condemn the Government for becoming too involved in setting the detail for public exams, leading to "uninspiring" GCSEs. Excessive prescription of this sort is hardly conducive to making learning enjoyable, yet enjoyment is given equal status with achievement in one of the key Every Child Matters goals.

The latest in our Big 5 series looks at the tensions between these two aims. While most teachers believe children's enjoyment is being damaged by the Government's testing regime, good schools believe it is possible to find the right balance during the school day. Fewer exams would help.

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