Exam markers are to be given higher pay and better training as part of a £100m programme to modernise England's exam system, Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, announced yesterday.
The reforms include the establishment of a new National Assessment Agency (NAA) to oversee modernisation of the system and pilot schemes of computerised marking.
The announcement comes after Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), likened the current system to a Victorian "cottage industry" and warned it could collapse without a complete overhaul.
The modernisation will affect the QCA, which currently both sets and marks the national tests and acts as regulator of the exam boards. Under the reforms a new agency, the National Assessment Agency will administer the tests for seven, 11- and 14-year-olds. The QCA will remain the watchdog on standards.
The Government has allocated £50m in both 2004-5 and 2005-6 to the programme, which will include experiments to scan exam scripts so that they can be transmitted to examiners who will mark them on computer.
The movement of all exam papers around the system will also be streamlined and made more secure.
Mr Clarke said: "These proposals will ensure we have an examinations system fit for the 21st century."