GCSE candidates being rewarded for writing the f-word in English papers

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London, June 30 : Students taking GCSE papers are being rewarded for writing obscenities in their English examinations, even though such words have nothing to do with the question.

A candidate was given marks for accurately spelling "f*** off", and conveying its meaning successfully.

Peter Buckroyd, a chief examiner who marked his paper, recently instructed fellow examiners to strictly follow the mark scheme, to the extent that even students who produce swear words on their papers should be awarded points.

He himself accepted that he had given the pupil two marks, out of a possible 27, for the expletive.

Buckroyd, who is associated with the examination board Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), is responsible for standards in exams taken by 780,000 candidates, and for training for 3,000 examiners

"It would be wicked to give it zero, because it does show some very basic skills we are looking for - like conveying some meaning and some spelling. It's better than someone that doesn't write anything at all. It shows more skills than somebody who leaves the page blank," Times Online quoted him as saying.

He said that he used the example to teach examiners the finer points of marking.

"It elucidates some useful points - it shows some nominal skills but no relevance to the task," he said.

Though he agreed that the use of swear words was inappropriate, he insisted that using the construction "different to" would also be inappropriate language.

Telling that the choice phrase given in answer to the question "Describe the room you're sitting in" on a 2006 GCSE paper was not punctuated, he said: "If it had had an exclamation mark it would have got a little bit more because it would have been showing a little bit of skill. We are trying to give higher marks to the students who show more skills."

The AQA, however, distanced itself from Buckroyd's comments.

"If a candidate's script contains, for example, obscenities, examiners are instructed to contact AQA's offices, which will advise them in accordance with Joint Council for Qualification guidelines. Expletives in a script would either be disregarded, or sanctioned," said the board, which as the largest of the three examination boards awards half the full-course GCSEs and 43 per cent of A levels.

Government examinations regulator Ofqual, on the other hand, refused to condemn Buckroyd's approach.

"We think it's important that candidates are able to use appropriate language in a variety of situations but it's for awarding bodies to develop their mark scheme and for their markers to award marks in line with that scheme," it said.

Other examining bodies said that their marking schemes would not reward such language.

"If the question was 'Use a piece of Anglo-Saxon English', they may get a mark, but if they had just written 'f*** off', they may get sanctioned. If it was graphic or violent they may get no mark for that paper," said Edexel.

The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents exam boards, is of the opinion that the examiners must report instances of "inappropriate, offensive or obscene material" in exam scripts, and the awarding body must investigate the matter.

"If malpractice is identified, the awarding body will decide on the appropriate sanction, which could include loss of marks or even disqualification," said a spokesman.

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