New marking scandal

26th August 2005 at 01:00
Edexcel staff admit to grading GCSE papers after just 20 minutes' training. Michael Shaw reports

Unqualified staff at one of Britain's biggest exam boards have revealed how they marked essay sections of GCSE papers after as little as 20 minutes'

training.

One Edexcel employee was astounded to be marking extended writing papers from the religious studies exam, without having studied the subject at GCSE.

"I thought examiners were supposed to be qualified," the marker told The TES. "I really couldn't believe it."

The revelations came as pupils, teachers and ministers celebrated the largest improvement in headline GCSE results since 1992. The proportion of entries awarded A* to C rose from 59.2 to 61.2 per cent. But languages faced a fresh crisis after entries for French and German slumped to their lowest levels since the early 1990s.

Earlier this week Edexcel attacked newspaper reports about the use of its administrative employees as markers. Jerry Jarvis, its managing director, said everyone involved in the board's marking had a relevant degree or had worked as a teacher.

He said that non-teacher markers only "mark short answers, freeing up experienced examiners to mark the longer, reasoned answers and essays".

But the marker who spoke to The TES said Edexcel would have known from staff records that a number of the markers did not have relevant qualifications or experience.

The GCSEs the employee marked included extended writing papers where candidates had half an hour to write one essay.

The marker, like other Edexcel staff, was attracted by the offer of pound;25 an hour during weekdays and pound;50 an hour at weekends - three times more than teacher markers usually receive.

Training varied for the papers from an afternoon's induction to a 20-minute talk-through the marking scheme while the markers sat on the floor in Edexcel's office.

The markers used the board's pioneering computerised system, looking through scanned-in papers on screen and then typing in points for each answer. To encourage examiners to work faster, the system features a "traffic light" system, indicating on screen how speedily they have marked questions with a red for slow, yellow for medium and green for fast. "The focus seemed to be all on the quantity of exams getting marked, not on the quality," the marker said.

Internal emails from Mr Jarvis to Edexcel staff show that the board was urgently trying to find employees willing to mark GCSEs in English, geography, business studies, history and religious studies, as well as A-levels in French, geography, economics and general studies. However, the emails only invite those with appropriate qualifications to apply.

Edexcel staff were awarded an extra day's holiday for their work during the exam period.

Edexcel confirmed that some markers could receive just 20 minutes'

training, but said this would only occur when they were marking a single question rather than a full exam which would require a day's instruction.

Graduate markers were always made to mark a series of sample answers and only those who met the board's strict standards were allowed to mark real papers. "We do not allow people to mark if they are not up to scratch," a spokesman said. "We are confident in the process and in the quality of our marking."

The National Union of Teachers said schools would be appalled by the apparent lack of checks on markers.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

GCSE results 4

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