Marking fiasco continues

18th July 2008 at 01:00
Early signs show this year's scores will remain static and results fall below government targets
Early signs show this year's scores will remain static and results fall below government targets

Confusion and mistrust surrounded the botched return of test results to schools this week.

Provisional key stage 2 results are still due to be published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) on August 5.

Early indications from eight local authorities, covering almost 900 schools, show the results will remain static this year at 80 per cent of pupils reaching the expected level 4 in English, 77 per cent in maths and 88 per cent in science.

Other authorities have said results are not secure. Some report that pupils have been marked as absent. In one school, all Year 6 pupils were marked absent for one paper.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which oversees testing, was called before the Commons select committee on Monday.

He revealed that 10,000 emails from markers had gone unanswered by ETS Europe, the marking company, that his officials were forced to set up a call centre to cope with complaints from markers, and that fines for ETS could run into tens of millions of pounds. But he added that the marking of KS2 was now 100 per cent complete.

Two days later he had to apologise. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he was "bitterly disappointed" to find that another 384 scripts had been discovered. "The reality is we cannot have next year a repeat of what happened this year," he said. "It has to be addressed."

The litany of complaints from schools has continued this week.

The marking of the 9.5 million papers has been overseen by ETS Europe for the first time this year.

The papers were due back in schools a week ago last Tuesday, but then the National Assessment Agency said the KS2 results would not be ready until last Tuesday, and the KS3 results until today.

At one stage last week, seven emergency marking centres were in use as examiners raced to finish marking allocations from ETS.

If the results do stay still, it will mean the Government has missed the final chance to reach its goal of 85 per cent of pupils reaching level 4 in English and maths.

But a static score would be some relief to ministers as the DCSF's own statisticians have warned the scores could dip by two percentage points as a result of the end of "borderlining" - the process of checking pupils' results if they fall just below a national curriculum level.

From next year, the targets will be changed to reflect a combined score for English and maths, and progress throughout primary school.

In the House of Commons, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, admitted to a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that at least 120,000 pupils will not receive their results for KS3 English tests which were due to be released today.

Responding to tough questioning from MPs, Mr Balls said results for more than 80 per cent of papers taken in English, maths and science would be published by today's deadline, which has already been postponed from July 8.

But Mr Balls admitted the figure was skewed by more science and maths being marked successfully.

Fewer than 80 per cent of marks for English papers would be ready, he said, leaving at least 120,000 of the 600,000 pupils without results.

- Teenagers who have only recently completed A-levels are being hired as markers, it was claimed this week. Barry Sheerman, chair of the Commons children, schools and families committee, said evidence that recent school-leavers were being used as markers cast serious doubts over marking quality.

Mr Sheerman said he had presented his evidence to "astonished" officials at Ofqual, the exams regulator. He cited a science graduate employed to mark science, English and maths papers who proved to be the most experienced member of his marking team. The revelation came in a heated exchange between MPs and Ed Balls over delays in the marking of national tests.

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