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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 14:47 GMT
Plan to detect rogue exam results
exam results sheet
Some schools now routinely send complaints to the regulator
England's exam regulator is investigating the possibility of having an automatic alert system to detect anomalies in schools' exam results.

It would be similar to the way credit card companies' anti-fraud systems pick up unusual spending patterns.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) acted on concerns about apparently rogue results raised by a number of schools in recent years.

The head of Eton College has said there should be fewer exams, better marked.

A spokesman for the QCA said it had convened a focus group last year following reports that centres - the schools and colleges where exams are taken - "had issues around marking".


He said the exam boards were still studying the feasibility of the automated alerts.

The idea was that if a centre's results were noticeably out of kilter with its usual pattern of achievement in previous years, an inquiry would begin even without the school having to lodge a complaint.

The regulator is also seeking data from the boards to establish whether there is a significant problem or just a perception that there is a problem.

On the published figures, less than one in every thousand A-level results are re-graded following an appeal.


One of the country's leading private schools - Eton College in Berkshire - now routinely sends a dossier of complaints about marking to the QCA.

Last summer it submitted 711 requests for re-marks of exams in seven GCSE and A-level subjects.

As a result, 11% of the final grades were changed.

Eton's head master, Tony Little, told the BBC News website that this was by no means unusual - and had important implications for students' futures.

"It has not been uncommon to have a situation where a very good candidate is getting very good A grade scores in all the modules bar one," he said.

He gave the example of a young man who obtained five A grades and a U, resulting in a B grade overall - which cost him his university place.

So he would welcome a system that would automatically detect such "bizarre" results: arguably it was long overdue.

Mr Little said: "The underlying problem is simply this: if you look at a country that's the most assessed in Western Europe, are we examining too much?

"I think the answer is, 'Yes'. There should be fewer exams and they should be better marked."

The shadow schools secretary, Michael Gove, said: "This raises another question mark over this government's stewardship of our exam system. Ministers and the QCA have difficult questions to answer.

"Schools and parents with resources can challenge bad practice but once again the education system under this government serves the poorest particularly badly."

Response times

The QCA said centres it had consulted also felt that, although exam boards met their targets for handling queries about results, they could perhaps be dealt with more quickly.

So it commissioned a review led by Gerry Kelly, the former chief executive of the Southern Education and Library Board in Northern Ireland.

As a result the code of practice for exam boards is being changed from 2008 to reduce the exam boards' target response times for handling queries.

These will go from 35 days to 30 days for non-urgent A-level results and GCSE results, and from 20 days to 18 for A-level results where university places are at stake.

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26 Sep 07 |  UK Politics

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