Leading article: Where have all the examiners gone?

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The Independent Online

Last week The Independent revealed that the new system for appealing against exam results – which means students' grades can go down as well as up – had led to a dramatic reduction in candidates requesting re-marks. The number had dropped by 50 per cent. That led to demands for an immediate rethink. The fear was that students who should have been awarded higher grades were put off from appealing in the belief that they might lose out and damage their university prospects. That is to miss the point, however. It cannot be argued that the new system is unfair in principle. After all, those who don't appeal are simply getting the marks their efforts deserve. It can be argued, though, that there is a need to build more confidence in the marking system.

Last week The Independent revealed that the new system for appealing against exam results – which means students' grades can go down as well as up – had led to a dramatic reduction in candidates requesting re-marks. The number had dropped by 50 per cent. That led to demands for an immediate rethink. The fear was that students who should have been awarded higher grades were put off from appealing in the belief that they might lose out and damage their university prospects. That is to miss the point, however. It cannot be argued that the new system is unfair in principle. After all, those who don't appeal are simply getting the marks their efforts deserve. It can be argued, though, that there is a need to build more confidence in the marking system.

The introduction of the new AS-level has led to a dramatic increase in examiners' workloads. The Government watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, this year voiced criticism of one board for relying too heavily on experienced markers who were either nearing retirement or had been called back from retirement. Readers will also remember that another of the "big three" boards, Edexcel, came in for searing criticism for a series of blunders over exam papers – including wrongly worded questions and parts of papers going missing. There is no doubt those faults were exacerbated by the pressures on the system.

It has become clear from the Government's plans to reform education for 14- to 19-year-olds that ministers are not prepared to take radical steps such as abandoning the GCSE – as The Independent has advocated. Other measures are therefore needed. There is much merit in the idea that senior teachers be given chartered examiner status and be allowed to mark the scripts of their own pupils in GCSEs. This would boost the supply of markers and allow those working for the exam boards to spend more time on AS- and A-level papers.

But the problem may not be solved until either a new pay structure for markers is introduced to make the job more attractive to teachers, or the Government acts decisively to cut the administrative workload stemming from its reforms so that headteachers release more staff for marking.

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