British exam papers ‘being sent to India to be marked’

A major exam board has become the first in Britain to outsource marking to India as part of a project designed to speed up the assessment process and save money. This is from the Telegraph…

Tens of thousands of test papers sat through City & Guilds are being scanned in and sent to an educational company based in Bangalore.

The agreement involves “functional skills” exams in reading, maths and ICT sat by children and adults, which are designed to assess the practical application of core skills in the workplace and life in general.

Other exam boards have previously outsourced data entry to firms based overseas but experts suggested this was the first deal of its kind involving marking.

City & Guilds insisted that the move involved a “significant” upfront investment by the organisation, although it is hoped it will eventually “result in cost savings” that will be passed on to customers.

The deal was struck because functional skills exams are taken at any time of the year and the board needed to access a large team of established markers who could quickly turn papers around en masse, the organisation said.

It also insisted that rigorous training and quality checks have been put in place to maintain standards, with senior examiners double-checking a set proportion of papers.

But the move has been criticised by education experts as a risky venture that could lead to mistakes being made.

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: “It is very concerning because exams are not an exact form of measurement and rely to some extent or another on understanding and judgment.

“The idea of putting call centres in India was that you had a very highly-educated workforce who can get the job done more efficiently and cheaper than in this country. But you try ringing BT and it is incredibly hard to get any kind of technical advice out of them.

“I have no doubt about the qualifications of the Indian people involved, but what experience do they have of the courses that are being delivered in this country?”

Functional skills exams are taken in schools, colleges and work-based training centres. They can be worth the same as a GCSE and were developed in response to employers’ concerns over the practical application of basic skills.

City & Guilds said it started outsourcing marking to the education company MeritTrac as part of a pilot programme launched 18 months ago. It involves all papers sat in reading, maths and ICT – mainly multiple-choice exams but some questions that involve a “low level of subjectivity”.

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