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Review urged for GCSE results: Borderline papers 'need reassessment'

BORDERLINE GCSE results should be reviewed by all examination boards to guard against marking errors, according to a scrutiny by the Government's exams advisers.

The Schools Examinations and Assessment Council looked at individual exams set by each of the five boards which offer GCSEs in English, maths and science. It found that one of the boards failed to review papers that came close to the borderlines between different grades.

The scrutineers said that the failure 'placed a high premium on accuracy of marking', and the evidence suggested that the safeguard of a review was necessary. In English, where reviews were conducted, they 'contributed to the high reliability of the exam'.

The scrutiny reports are the first since last year's row when John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, suggested that GCSE standards were slipping.

The evidence, however, shows that most GCSE examining groups are providing successful exams, and marking systems are working well. But in two cases in English, marking schemes were inconsistent, and a third scheme failed to match the tasks set. 'Serious problems occurred where a mark scheme demanded specific answers or techniques which the questions did not require,' the council said.

It was GCSE coursework that came under particularly heavy criticism last year, and some cases of inaccurate marking were found where training was inadequate and where teachers misunderstood the guidelines. In some exams, a lack of clear guidance led to marking discrepancies.

In maths, all but one of the syllabuses included a coursework component. Many teachers evidently found it difficult to set the necessary range of coursework tasks, SEAC notes.