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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Exam board to replace paper marking
Exam room
Exam scripts will be marked on screens in future

US-designed technology is to be used to improve the speed of marking and processing exam results in Britain.

The examination board Edexcel will electronically scan GCSE and A-level papers so they can be checked on-screen and stored on computer.

The changes were announced after the non-profit company revealed it had been taken over by the media giant Pearson, owner of the Financial Times and the publisher Penguin.

The technology, Edexcel says, will allow markers to look at multi-choice or essay questions without having to deal with mountains of paperwork.

It also claims this will also permit it to return copies of marked scripts to schools and candidates.

The greater transparency, it is hoped, will prevent a repeat of last year's A-level fiasco, when more than a thousand scripts had to be re-marked.

'Cannot deliver alone'

Edexcel's chief executive, John Kerr, said: "The examinations system has been under intense pressure for some time.

"We have proved we can cope with this, but coping isn't good enough. If we are to deliver the quality and standards of service that teachers, students and parents deserve, we need investment, skills and technology that we cannot deliver alone."

Pearson, which has pioneered on-screen marking in the US, will own 75% of the newly named London Qualifications group.

This will take responsibility for all Edexcel's existing courses and qualifications, including GCSEs, A and AS-levels, GNVQs, NVQs and BTec Higher National Certificates and Diplomas.

The technology will not be implemented until after the marking of this summer's exams.

With it, papers can be marked by two or more examiners simultaneously, reducing the time taken to publish results.

The announcement follows the regrading of thousands of A-level papers last year, after allegations that grades had been lowered to avert criticism that exams were getting easier.

An inquiry by the former chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, found a need for clearer standards.

Eventually, 1,220 A-level and 733 AS-level students had their grades improved.

Last month, the Commons education select committee called for a more "transparent" system to ensure there would not be a repeat of the controversy.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, welcomed Edexcel's announcement as possible "the beginning of a move into the modern era of our outdated and excessive examinations system."

He added: "We want to see a slimmer, more effiecient examinations system, with more use of online testing and greater reliance on internal assessment, using the professional judgement of experienced teachers."

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