Marker's Sats job comes to full stop

23rd May 2008 at 01:00
Exam company's garbled email is final straw
Exam company's garbled email is final straw

Primary school deputy head Tony Bate had hoped to mark national examinations for ETS Europe this summer, but not any longer. The final straw was a garbled email he received on Tuesday.

It read: "If we have not received your contract currently unfortunately you will not be able to mark this year. We apoligise (sic) for any inconvience (sic) this may cause. We will keep your details on file and be contacting you for next years (sic) marking."

Mr Bate, 33, of Ysgol Maelgwn in Llandudno Junction, Conwy, has marked key stage 2 papers for the past four years and been well rated for his work. He said seven weeks ago, he sent his completed contract to the organisers of this year's Sats marking. Since then, he had tried repeatedly to contact ETS Europe to find out details of last weekend's training events, which he needed to attend before he could start marking. They never came.

So Mr Bate will not be marking for the company. Deprived of the extra income, he said he has had to cancel plans for a summer holiday with his family in Spain.

He replied to ETS: "Please immediately remove my details from your records as I do not wish to be associated with ETS Europe under any circumstance in the future."

Mr Bate's experience mirrors that of many who had hoped to mark the KS2 or 3 tests this year. Dozens of teachers have contacted The TES or posted stories on our website, although most are unwilling to be identified. One tale of frustration, from a would-be KS2 science marker, runs to four sides of A4 paper.

So far, the National Assessment Agency, which oversees the test marking process, has had nearly 200 complaints from markers. They extend beyond problems with contracts to the hours spent trying to complete the on-line marking process, and (as we report on p3) concerns about marking quality itself.

Questions were also raised in the House of Commons this week about ETS's performance, which the Liberal Democrats described as "a shambles".

Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary, said the situation was being kept under review.

Last Friday, Andy Latham, ETS Europe's vice-president, apologised on The TES online staffroom for the problems. He added that most KS3 markers would receive their scripts by the following day.

However, many were still complaining they had not received their full allocation this week. Experienced KS3 markers say that marking is now a week behind schedule. All results and scripts are supposed to be with schools by July 8.

Many teachers have dubbed the ETS helpline the "unhelpful line". It is being staffed from two call centres run by an Irish firm.

Maths markers are also complaining that this year, for the first time, they have to enter every mark they give each pupil for each question on-screen. Several have said this will take hours, cutting their pay rate below the minimum wage.

Mr Latham said: "It is fair to say we did not do a good job on communicating with markers."

He said the call centres had struggled in the face of up to 10,000 calls and emails a day, four times the volume expected. New staff had been taken on to handle calls from ETS's Watford offices.

Mr Latham said the firm remained committed to hitting its deadline. A dedicated marking centre has been set up, in which examiners can mark throughout the day under supervision.

In next week's TES: Andy Latham answers his critics


The advent of almost continuous in-class testing has moved closer, with an exam board revealing details of "on-demand" assessments.

Results Plus Progress, from Edexcel, enables pupils to take up to 10 on-screen tests as they prepare for GCSEs in science and maths.

The mainly multiple-choice quizzes do not count towards pupils' final marks, but indicate understanding of key concepts the GCSE exams cover. This would allow the teacher to focus on areas needing improvement.

The tests to help GCSE maths and science pupils, and a similar product for key stage 3 maths, have already been taken up by 400 schools, covering 20,000 pupils, at a cost of pound;3 a pupil for each test.

Edexcel promises that tests for six to eight GCSE courses could follow by next summer. They might also eventually be available for A-levels.

Jerry Jarvis, Edexcel's managing director, said: "It gives the teacher the ability to act more as a coach, and it gives students the opportunity for personalised learning."

Mr Jarvis, pressed on whether it would encourage teaching to the test, said: "The more we concentrate, as an organisation, on higher attainment, the more we are going to be accused of supporting the notion that you teach to the test. However, whereas lots of people celebrate failure, we would like to think that what we should be celebrating is success."

This year Edexcel is using new technology to help root out exam cheats. Some papers are being secretly marked with the school or college's name, to make it easier for the source of a security alert to be identified should papers be stolen. The board is also using software to check for unusual patterns in pupils' answers, to guard against collusion.

Warwick Mansell.

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