Teachers furious at English marking errors

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Almost 12,000 pupils were given the wrong grades in this year's English tests for 14-year-olds, new figures have revealed.

Now officials have conceded that markers must be given more training. Fran Abrams looks at a problem which has infuriated head teachers.

New rules are being drawn up on how pupils' English papers should be marked, after a total of 150,000 complaints in just three years.

In 1995, the first year after exam boards were given responsibility for marking the tests, there were almost 72,000 complaints, almost 20,000 of which turned out to be valid. Last year there were just 25,000 complaints, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority thought matters were improving.

But this year, another 42,000 papers had to be remarked and 12,000 pupils - two per cent of the total - were told their results were wrong. The vast majority will have had their marks revised upwards.

The number of mistakes made by maths and science markers were much smaller. In maths, there were 1,200 complaints and just six mark changes, while in science there were 4,200 complaints and 30 mark changes.

A spokeswoman for the authority said last night that marking procedures for Key Stage Three English tests would be tightened up from next year. Similar changes would be made for maths and science the following year.

"There will be much better training of markers and supervisors, a lot more compulsory checking of supervisors' work and more checks before the scripts are released to schools," she said.

This year, problems were detected in May after pupils sat the tests, and a sample of 10,000 papers were held back and checked. But despite that, there had still been complaints.

Ann Barnes, general secretary of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said too few pupils seemed to have been awarded the higher levels, six and seven, but more had been awarded level five.

Many schools had written to the association to complain, she said. But often teachers did not even bother to complain because they felt the tests were largely a waste of time.

"If they were taking it seriously we would expect far more complaints. I think it is very rash to take no notice of your results, but certainly that is what schools are doing," she said.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said the Government was operating a "high-cost, low-value" system. Of the pounds 13.4m spent on tests for 14 year-olds, pounds 9.4m went on marking. Tests for seven-year-olds cost pounds 36 per pupil while just pounds 17 per pupils was spent on books.

"There are clearly huge question-marks both about the value for money we are getting and the accuracy and efficiency of the exercise," he said.