Exam board halts online marking test

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An experiment in online marking of exam scripts has had to be curtailed after markers claimed that the system caused computers to crash.

An experiment in online marking of exam scripts has had to be curtailed after markers claimed that the system caused computers to crash.

The exam board Edexcel has ordered teachers to return to more tried and tested marking methods for papers in its GCSE maths exam.

The move towards online marking has been seen as the most revolutionary change to the way papers are marked in more than a century.

However, just under 100,000 papers have now had to be sent out to examiners a week later than the candidates' scripts should have been received.

Markers claim the U-turn puts a question mark over the move towards more online marking - seen by the Government's exams watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), as essential in bringing the entire examination system into the 21st century.

One told The Independent: "Hours and hours of online marking work by hundreds of teachers has been wasted.

"There must now be a race on to get the papers in question marked in time. Thousands of scripts will have to be sent round the country a week after the exams were sat."

The QCA has claimed that wholesale online marking will herald revolutionary changes to the education system by speeding up the marking process, allowing youngsters to apply for university places after receiving their exam results instead of being awarded places on anticipated grades.

Academics claim this will prompt more working-class youngsters to apply for places at top universities. They argue many lack the confidence to make applications before they have their A-level results.

Edexcel insisted that there would be no delays to candidates receiving results and said the decision to change had been made because it was considered to be the best method of delivering the results. He denied that it was as a result of computers being unable to cope.

He added that the experiment in online marking had been a "success".

In a letter to markers, Margaret Lawson, the head of assessment at Edexcel, said: "After careful consideration, we have decided to revert to traditional marking methods for these last papers to even out the load on our processing team."

She added that "a huge number of marks" had been submitted over the weekend, making the marking period "very tight". She said that new technology would be used to mark the exams in the future.

The switch back to traditional marking was possible as a result of the candidates doing their exams on papers, which were then scanned on to computers. This meant the original papers were still available to be sent out to markers.

If online marking is successful, many candidates will be filling in their exams on computers - making it impossible for boards to use paper back-ups if the system goes wrong.