Let's follow the Irish down the open road;Sounding off;Exam Marks;Secondary

12th June 1998 at 01:00
I welcome the decision (TheTES, May 29) of Miche l Martin, Ireland's minister for education and science, to let Irish 17 and 18-year-olds see their marked exam scripts. Such transparency is absent in England.

Eleven years ago, after passing a PhD viva at London University, I asked to see the examiners' report. Given that the thesis and oral exam earned me a doctorate, I did not anticipate a refusal. My request was denied.

In 1995, while head of social sciences at a Leeds comprehensive school, I appealed against a grade N decision by the Associated Examining Board on behalf of an A-level student. The appeal was not upheld. I could not contest the marks because the board had sole right to script access. It alone was judge, jury, and - in this case - executioner.

More worryingly, I discovered that the Independent Appeals Authority for School Examinations (which "exists to help ensure that candidates have confidence that the grades awarded are as fair and accurate as they can be") was not empowered to re-mark candidates' work.

Since January I have worked as an associate professor of education in Norway. Recently, while invigilating my PGCE students' final teacher exam, I witnessed the kind of transparency espoused in Dublin. PGCE students in Norway have carbon-copy answer books, a top copy for the external examiner, a second for the internal examiner, and a third for the candidate.

Miche l Martin's decision is brave and radical. Even the progressive Norwegians have not extended this degree of openness to high schools.

In England, examiners generally enjoy exclusive "property rights" over script evidence. Pupils and students are at the mercy of a system that disbars them from access to the only evidence on which marks are awarded in external exams - their scripts.

The Irish way - which also operates in New Zealand - brings an important measure of accountability into exam marking. It also helps pupils see what they did well, where they went wrong and how they can improve.

In England, exam boards and universities are calling the shots in decisions that have major consequences for young lives.

It is time for something better and different. We should be following Ireland's example.

* Paul Stephens is an associate professor of education at Stavanger College, Norway

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