GCSEs may be tough, but try marking them

Students whose letter formation resembled a shower of arrows suffered
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The Independent Online

Students across the country have been celebrating or commiserating with each other over their GCSE results this weekend. But to the thousands of people who gave those candidates' parents an excuse to buy some cheap champagne, scarcely a nod is offered. Is it not time that Britain's army of examiners, mostly current or retired teachers, were properly thanked for their efforts?

I had my first experience of marking GCSE papers this summer. After I had signed up, I was told that I would find 300 "candidate responses" in my inbox. Three hundred? That would normally take me roughly (and I hope my headmaster isn't reading this) 10 weeks. This time, though, once our "practice scripts" had been cleared for "live marking" by assessors, I would have about 12 days to come to a decision which would affect the lives of 300 people, whether or not they were planning to pursue Virgil or Horace up to A-level.

Naturally, I took this responsibility very seriously. When I started, I was marking two papers an hour. If I had carried on like that, I would still have been marking by Christmas. "Don't worry," said a more experienced colleague. "You'll soon speed up. In fact, by the end, you'll be doing them in your sleep." She was right: as the deadline loomed, correcting replaced sleep as the only way to get through my marking target. In the circumstances, candidates with good handwriting profited. Brilliant students whose letter formation resembled a shower of arrows suffered. I make no apologies for that: nor did they.

Then again, why on earth should candidates be rewarded for rambling over several pages, rather than limiting themselves to the answer box? I grew increasingly frustrated with this flatulence and yet markers are meant to ignore both crimes against handwriting and conciseness.

In the novel I have just written, I speculated – for reasons too complex to go into – that students might learn Latin better in a cave under armed guard than in the classroom. I might suggest the same for examinations: if anyone asks for extra paper, the safety catch comes off the AK-47s.

As ever, timing is all. The end of the school year is a terrible moment to have to submerge oneself beneath a (virtual) pile of on-screen exam papers, and yet this is what is expected of our heroic examiners. I appeal for some appreciation from those who inflict their half-remembered literary references on Britain's home guard of markers. I'm not suggesting that every candidate should add a billet-doux or letter of apology to the examiner on the final page of their script, and I'm far too upright to suggest that this might reflect well on their overall score. But, then again, it probably wouldn't do them any harm.

Alexander Games' novel 'Rydon Hall' (Heddon Publishing) is available as an ebook and in print from Amazon