Keats exam is not a thing of beauty

Three senior English examiners have resigned because they believe new exam rules are completely unsuitable for marking questions on Keats' concept of beauty.

Another eight examiners say they have been effectively suspended by an exam board until they agree to sign an agreement to comply with the new code of practice.

The protesters, all examiners for the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board which sets exams for many of the top public schools, say that the rules penalise gifted candidates who show originality and flair.

They are also concerned that the exam will be unfair because fewer individual scripts will be seen by examiners.

A meeting of the eight due to take place last weekend to set next year's English exam was cancelled by the board.

Government exam advisers from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education are understood to have attacked the marking of this year's English A-level by the rebellious 11 because they failed to follow the revised code of practice.

Dr John Saunders, chief examiner in English, who has resigned, said the code assumed that English was "something of a science", that it was possible to give a "right" mark in English and that examiners could be programmed so that they would agree on a right mark.

Instead, he said, even well-trained examiners were likely to "disagree by up to 5 per cent on their marks for most essays and by up to 25 per cent or more on essays which are unfamiliar in form and attitude."

He added that brilliant candidates from schools such as Winchester who wrote very short answers would be penalised under the system. The examiners argue that different subjects need different code.

Dr Brian Martin, one of the eight who has not resigned, said: "How can the same code of practice be applied to marking a physics exam and to marking a literature exam, for example the marking a question which asks about Keats' conception of beauty in his poetry and to a question about velocity, co-ordinates and vectors?"

The dispute has been further complicated by the ruling that the papers in the board's summer English literature A-Level should be marked as four modules or separate components, even though most candidates thought they were taking a traditional course with one final exam.

Dr Saunders and his colleagues felt that this was unfair on abler candidates who tend to do better on non-modular courses.

The exam board secretary, said in a letter to one of the examiners: "I cannot accept that advanced level English cannot be examined in accordance with the code of practice, not least because all the other GCSE exam boards do this.

A spokesman for the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority said: "All the boards have signed up to the code of practice. We are not aware that there is any problem with any aspect of the code of practice. We absolutely reject the examiners reasons for their actions."

Leading article, page 21

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