Testing and assessment: We will fail him on the beaches

A computerised system is increasingly being used to mark exam papers. It's a good job Churchill wasn't being examined...

It is one of the most famous and inspirational speeches ever to be given in the House of Commons, its bold refrain coming to symbolise the indomitable British spirit in the Second World War.

But Winston Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches" speech would not, it seems, have flourished under the computerised marking system slowly being introduced to grade exams in the UK. When the speech was submitted to a computerised system set up to mark English literature papers, it was awarded an "F for failure".

The computer particularly disliked Churchill's use of repetition, as in: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields, we shall fight in the hills." His use of the word "might", as in "the might of the Army", was also picked out as an erroneous use of a verb instead of a noun.

Yesterday, the sorry saga of the speech was revealed at a conference to discuss testing and assessment. David Wright, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA), the professional body representing markers, told how a copy of Churchill's speech had been uploaded to a website set up to assess English literature.

The conference heard how efforts to introduce electronic marking into the GCSE and A-level were slowly beginning to take root in the UK examination system, an idea with which most schoolchildren do not feel comfortable.

Salil Bhate, a pupil at King Edward VI grammar school in Chelmsford, Essex, and a member of the executive of the English Secondary Students' Association, said: "Young people simply don't trust electronic marking". He added: "You study for two years and at the end of it there's a computer which decides whether you get an A* or C grade. We deserve more respect than that."

Of course, Churchill's speech was not a literary text, and therefore not designed to be treated as a piece of English literature to be marked according to exam standards. But Mr Wright and his colleagues at the CIEA used it to make the point that the computer could not take into account dramatic effect. They also said it had perhaps been too rigid in rejecting the use of the word "might" as a noun.

Churchill was not the only famous person to fall foul of the electronic marking system – the computer also dismissed the works of Ernest Hemingway and William Golding. It decided that Hemingway was not careful enough in his choice of verbs, while Golding was found to resort to ungrammatical usage in the dramatic final scene of Lord of the Flies, in which Ralph flees from the rest of the children.

Isabel Nisbet, acting chief executive of Ofqual, the independent exams watchdog, argued that students could compare the computer's assessment to a marker who had experienced a rough night before marking an exam. There are, however, plans to continue with pencil-and-paper tests at GCSE level until at least 2013.

Electronic marking is being introduced slowly, and exam experts said it was being concentrated in subjects where there were more likely to be direct answers, such as science and maths, rather than in areas which required more freedom of expression.Ms Nesbit said that, if it was up to her, she would "go back to the computer which devised the system and say, 'That's a crap system; get a better one'." Churchill, however, would not have been too dismayed to see that his efforts failed to gain him respect from the education sector. His own dismal experiences with schooling are well chronicled.

Put to the test: Churchill, Hemingway and Golding

Sir Winston Churchill; marked down for repetition

Churchill said: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills: we shall never surrender." The computer marked him down for repetition.

Churchill went on to talk of the Empire "with all its power and might". Here again he fell foul of the computerised system, which accused him of wrongly using the verb "might" (as in "may") as a noun.

William Golding; sentence without a verb

William Golding was marked down for using "A face" as a sentence for dramatic effect at the end of Lord of the Flies, when describing how Ralph comes face to face with one of his tormentors. At the time, he is hiding in a bush and peeping out to try and see what they are doing.

Ernest Hemingway; careless use of verbs

Ernest Hemingway is criticised for his use of verbs in a short story. The computer marker claims the use is "careless". However, academics say Hemingway was always extremely careful in his verb choices – using them for narrative and dramatic effect, something which the computer cannot measure.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Reach Volunteering: External HR Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree have recently been awa...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot