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Madam, You might be interested to know how my last, very able, year 11 class did in the new GCSE examination designed to remove the corruptions of a decadent course-work system.

The grades were clearly so inaccurate that after an initial sampling in which six grades were raised out of eight, the whole lot were marked again. In English language, 13 candidates out of 30 had their grades raised; in literature 20 out of 30. These enormous changes were similarly reflected in the results of other English groups in the school.

You can imagine my anger and frustration. On the basis of these results, pupils made A-level subject choices, and felt bitterly disappointed by their performances, particularly after all their hard work; teachers felt they had failed their pupils.

In my opinion, this kind of disaster is not isolated or unexpected, but is the result of an inherent weakness in the examination system which even a highly competent board cannot avoid. This system involves setting one or two brief papers marked by one examiner with some supervision.

In comparison, course-work grades are awarded after the close scrutiny of innumerable efforts by a teacher with intimate knowledge of the pupils, and policed by the rest of the department and an elaborate moderation system. To suggest the former system is more likely to be just seems patently absurd. I think 60 per cent of my class would agree.

If the school had not demanded a re-mark, these injustices would have persisted. What needs to be considered is how often similar situations occur because of inertia or blind faith in the system. That these pupils had already been judged more highly in their course-work did not deter a board from awarding lower grades and the huge disparity between the grades was presumably ignored. Until course-work is reintroduced into GCSE English as the main or (preferably) only method of assessment, mor e of these mistakes will occur.

LC Rowe MA (Oxon)

Formerly Head of English (retired July 1994)

Durham Johnston School Durham

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