15th September 2000 at 01:00
Peter King renounces anonymity

This year, for the first time in a long career as an examiner, I was not supposed to know the name of any of my examination centres or of those marked by the seven members of my team.

I say "supposed". For a start, somebody in the Government forgot that a considerable number of schools have a postal franking system. My main parcel arrived with the name and address of the centre on the envelope. And is it any surprise, in a paper where one topic encouraged candidates to write about aspects of their school, that some of them referred to their school by name?

It's not just racehorses or sports teams that have a pedigree: so do many schools. Over the years you come to recognise teaching styles or remember that a certain famous school has a long tradition of teaching the classics. Even without postal franking, I know immediately who I am dealing with when I read answers that refer to the use of "climactic tricolons" or "anaphora" (repetition to most of us) with a question that encourages linguistic analysis or awareness of technical skills.

As with good wine, an experienced examiner develops a "nose". Given the barest of clues, one unhesitatingly names the school.

So what was the point of this misguided exercise? Was it an attempt to avoid discrimination, particularly against independent schools? Was it a challenge to the assumptions that one might ring to bear with certain schools? But what self-respecting football manager would attempt to prepare his team with no knowledge whatsoever of his opponents or their style?

As a team leader, this year I was unable to brief or prepare my team as fully as I have done in the past. Before meeting them I was accustomed to scrutinising their individual allocation of centres for marking. I see nothing wrong in alerting them, based on a knowledge of performance over the years, to the fact that certain of their centres will make particular demands on them. That is not prejudging, but encouraging a thoughtful approach in the examiner's work - especially given the tendency of English teachers to under rather than over-mark. This is done with the knowledge that there will be ample opportunity later to sample the marking of each centre, and to ensure that agreed standards have been consistently and fairly applied.

Enforced anonymity is, in essence, a slur on the examiner or the examination process. It implies that examiners cannot be relied on to deal fairly and impartially, in the light of agreed mark schemes and standards, with all centres, independent or state, grammar or comprehensive - and whatever the gender.

Still, examiners enjoy playing games and the Government certainly provides plenty of sport. Maybe academic anonymity should remain.

Peter King is a GCSE English examiner

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