Markers sell exam tips

20th April 2007 at 01:00
Examiners are being paid to tell staff how to play the system to improve GCSE grades

SENIOR EXAMINERS are being paid hundreds of pounds to tell teachers how to beat the GCSE system, The TES can reveal.

Respected markers give advice on how to "control" what pupils write for coursework and to script French oral exams so that pupils are told months in advance what the questions and answers will be.

They have also advised not to bother teaching more difficult material because pupils do not need it to achieve higher grades.

Schools are paying more than pound;200 a day for their teachers to attend such conferences, a new book reveals. Education by Numbers, to be published next month, catalogues the side-effects of the emphasis on test and exam results as the currency of teacher and school success. It presents previously unpublished official figures showing that schools are devoting nearly half their teaching time over four months to preparing for key stage 2 tests.

The TES was allowed to sit in on two advice sessions given by leading examiners, one for French and the other for history GCSE, on condition that the examiners were not identified. Both of them contribute much to the design of exam papers and the setting of grade boundaries in their subjects.

In the first session, teachers of French were advised to tell pupils what to write for coursework. They should be given a store of key phrases, the examiner said, to be written in their exercise books for transfer into their coursework assignments later.

The examiner recommended that schools should try not to submit their coursework early because board moderators were more likely to mark harshly.

Teachers were also advised to be "realistically generous" when grading coursework and told that it might not be worth teaching less able pupils much grammar because it was allocated few GCSE marks. They were also told to give pupils 42 questions and answers to learn during the two-year course. The teacher would then select some for the pupils' GCSE oral, the examiner suggested.

At a GCSE history seminar, an examiner told teachers it was not necessary to aim for the highest- quality work because pupils could achieve an A* without it.

Another tip was to concentrate on sections of the exam where not much historical knowledge was required - for example, on the use of historical sources.

The seminars are among hundreds run by private firms and exam boards helping teachers improve results. Typically, they are led by some of Britain's most senior markers. Another seminar, also run by a leading examiner, was advertised as "guaranteeing the best grades for everyone".

A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said that the two GCSE advice sessions were not categoric evidence of cheating.

Examiners' contracts with boards said they had a duty not to undermine the probity of examining.

* Education by Numbers: the Tyranny of Testing by Warwick Mansell (Politico's, pound;19.99) It's not cheating exactly, page 18

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