'Pupils will pay the price'

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
As Edexcel whistle-blower gives reasons for going public, a second marker attacks exam board. Michael Shaw reports

The whistle-blower who revealed how Edexcel let untrained staff mark extended writing papers after just 20 minutes' training has received supportive text messages from former colleagues at the exam board.

Richard Pope resigned from Edexcel last week after describing anonymously in The TES how he had marked religious studies papers.

Mr Pope said that several former colleagues were angry about his decision, which they saw as a betrayal. But others sent him supportive text messages praising his courage and offering to buy him drinks.

The 27-year-old, who worked as a desktop publisher for the company, said that he should not have been allowed to mark the papers as he was a music graduate who had not even taken a GCSE in religious studies.

He wrote an email to all board employees explaining why he had gone public with the story.

Mr Pope will shortly begin a PGCE and hopes to teach music in secondary schools. "I was shocked that the possibility for potentially haphazard marking existed in this way," he wrote. "After all, these issues could affect pupils who I will be teaching in two years' time."

Extended writing sections of the exam which Mr Pope marked included questions on different religions' approaches to world poverty and the portrayal of religions in the media.

Some pupils wrote essay answers that were longer than one side of A4, he said.

Mr Pope told The TES: "I had colleagues ringing up on the internal phone system saying, 'Hey, Richard, you're a Catholic - do Catholics do this?'

"Some pupils wrote that Bend It Like Beckham was about Muslims and I remember thinking it was lucky I'd seen the film because otherwise I wouldn't have known it was actually about a Sikh family.

"A 20-minute talk by someone at a whiteboard is not enough preparation."

Edexcel has repeatedly stated that graduate markers looked only at short answers and multiple choice questions.

In a press statement last week, Victor Watton, Edexcel's chief examiner for religious studies, said: "They are not given extended writing answers to mark and I am confident that there is no loss of marking quality because they are not teachers."

His comments were echoed by Jerry Jarvis, managing director of Edexcel.

However, Edexcel deleted their statements from its website after Mr Pope's resignation.

Edexcel refused to respond to the former employee's allegations or explain why it had removed the statements.

A spokesman said the board was unable to comment because it was consulting its lawyers about Mr Pope's departure.

The National Union of Teachers said Mr Pope's case suggested an urgent inquiry was needed into marking procedures.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk


Part of Richard Pope's resignation email to colleagues:

"After much soul-searching I have decided that I cannot, in good faith, return to work for Edexcel.

The crux of the matter is clear: I shouldn't have been marking and I somehow 'got through' the system. I wasn't aware of being spot-checked other than the quaint 'traffic-light' system that monitored the pace of my marking. The online marking system is not robust; the concern to get results out on time, no matter what the cost, can affect children's results and therefore their futures.

I had recently decided to do a PGCE. I was shocked that the possibility for potentially haphazard marking existed in this way. After all, these issues could affect pupils who I will be teaching in two years' time. I also know how much work goes into preparing these qualifications. Good, hard-working colleagues of mine sometimes spend two years getting materials just right.

All this good work might as well be for nothing if the endresult is so callouslyhandled."

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