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Government advisers on exams have failed to agree over whether to increase the amount of coursework in GCSE after a dispute at a day-long meeting.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, will now decide whether to change the rules for GCSE exams.

Both she and her advisers in the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority are under pressure from teachers to allow more coursework particularly in subjects like English.

Coursework, marked by teachers, was cut back from 100 per cent on the instructions of the Prime Minister. It now accounts for 40 per cent of GCSE English exams while the end of course exam counts for 60 per cent.

Mrs Shephard's predecessors argued that coursework gave too much opportunity for cheating and reduced public confidence in exams.

Sir Ron Dearing, the authority's chairman, is thought to be sympathetic to English teachers' demands. He believes that the Government should respond to consultation where opinion is overwhelmingly on one side. A consultation exercise conducted earlier this year showed the vast majority of English teachers wanted more coursework.

In a letter to Sir Ron yesterday Alastair West, vice-chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: ``Teachers' continuing concern about the reliability of the current arrangements for assessment by examination is evident in the unprecedented number of appeals against GCSE grades awarded this year. Pupils, particularly the more able, do need the space provided by coursework adequately to demonstrate their achievement across a range of activities.''

The association would like coursework to account for at least 60 per cent of marks.

The authority at its meeting on Tuesday also heard a report on discrepancies in marking between the different exam boards in this summer's GCSE maths and science exams. A report will be sent to Mrs Shephard before Christmas recommending a tightening of procedures and proposing that no board should have more than two syllabuses in English, Maths and Science.