Marking computer Says No AsTop Writers Fail Their English A Level.

Boggart Blog makes it our business to invigilate the progressive education lobby for sings of loonyness. An we have to be honest, they keep us busy.

One of the most crackpot ideas to come out of the academic clique that supervises the dumbing down of standard was the recruitment of a marking computer to assess A level papers.

On being given samples of writing by great authors including Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway and John Donne the computer failed them all, dismissing John Donne’s line “No man is an island.” as incomprehensible.

A very atmospheric passage from Dickens was branded too repetitive as was a transcript of Churchills “Fight them on the beaches” speech.

Extracts from William Goldings “Lord Of The Flies” and Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” were described respectively as “erratic” and “bizarre.”

Apart from being pedantic the marking computer cannot cope with metaphor, colloquialism or handle stylistic variation. All of which shows that despite the lurid fantasies of computer scientists Artificial Intelligence is as far away as Intergalactic Travel.

It is nicely ironic that in an education system designed, it is claimed, to encourage creativity, creativity is frowned on. The system sems to be giving out the message, “You will be creative, but only as creative as we allow you to be.”

Once again we see the underlying ideal of progressive education is control freakery.

Just as a final, satisfying, nail in the coffin of the computerized exam marker in its appraisal of Chuchill’s speech it corrects the use of “might of” in the phrase “might of the German Army,” advising the author it was an incorrect way of writing “might have” when in fact it is an abstract noun and perfectly correct. So did Churchill pass his A level?

Computer says No.

Read about the computerized exam marker at The Times

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18 thoughts on “Marking computer Says No AsTop Writers Fail Their English A Level.

  1. I was reading John Betjeman’s poem “Slough” earlier today, and wondered what the marking computer would make of the face that he uses the word ‘mess’ twice in one line.

    Does make you worried for the future. In the words of Leonard Cohen “I’ve seen the future brother/it is murder”.


    • but to paraphrase Leonard Cohen again:

      What’s that computer doing to ya! 🙂

      And what would it make of Oliver Mellors northern accent in Lady Chatterly’s Lover :))

      It’s an example of why I like kicking scientists so much. The computer scientists and education scientists who came up with this heap of junk just can’t see the problem.


      • Scientists are mathematics people – they can’t think abstractly with words, because for them everything must have an order and if it doesn’t its chaos. Do they have Aspergers as well, I wonder? 😉


      • Have to argue with this. The people who put this system together are idiots.

        Not because they are scientists but because they are computer programmers/analysts who (and this is the important bit) work for the government.

        Nobody good at their job in the computer field works in any project for the government.

        The government in any department you care to name is uniformly awkward, bloody minded and totally ignorant of what they require at the beginning of a project.

        They therefore give crap specifications to the computer bods who go away do what they can with them and then inevitably get told it is not what they envisaged and please start again.

        The government also destroyed the computer industry by introducing IR35 tax rules in the late 90’s and not many computer professionals worth their hire are prepared to forgive that.

        The result is large companies who make a great deal of money by not caring what sort of dross they churn out because they are paid big bucks to put up with the hideously soul destroying day to day experience of working with *government*

        Oh and they have to be ready that when inevitably the crap they have produced becomes obviously not fit for purpose (given that nobody ever really knew what it was the project was supposed to achieve except in the vaguest of terms) they have to put up with screams of outrage from everyone that they have failed despite having been paid huge wodges of cash.

        Garbage in Garbage out.


      • Banana,
        Everything you say about government and computers is right on the nail. I was one of those computer professionals but they were harrassing us before the late 1990s. I was part of an ICL consultancy team at Telford (IR computer centre) in the early 80s. The managers would see invoices that came in for our time and assume we trousered the lot. In reality we were hired by ICL through third parties so there wwere two 50% mark ups went on our fees.

        On the software you are a bit off target. It was developed as a commercial project by computer scientists and “educational” scientists in America (where it is having a disastrous effect on standards) and adapted for the UK. This stupid idea that language can be subjected to logical analysis and another project that does the same with music jut as badly have been kicking around since the early 90s.

        Artificial Intelligence is a fantasy. To the computer scientists who don’t understand what intelligence is, it is always just around the corner, just a short step away. In reality artificial inteligence can only ever exist if we redefine intelligence so that it means no more than an ability to parse vast amounts of data incredibly quickly and match binary strings.

        When I wrote programmes it was in proper languages not like the script kiddies today with their SQL & PHP. Everybody should learn COBOL. Because it’s only verb is “move” it gives a great insight into what computers are really doing. The complexity lies in the number of layered processes that are gone through to make its moving of static charges into something meaningful to humans.

        On all the projects I was involved with if someone joined the team and announced “I’m a scientist” we knew they had to be got rid of or we were fucked. For such people deliverables and timescales were irrelevant, everything was just an intellectual exercise. And I had to manage hese people. If managing people is like herding cats managing scientists is like herding gadflies with ADD.


      • I attribute my poetry writing to COBOL and PASCAL – I had no idea how to lay it all out before I learned them 🙂

        Learning how to maximise efficiency while using as little memory as possible by squeezing as much functionality into as little code as possible – is one hell of a way to learn brevity of expression LOL

        I was a crap programmer – but no knowledge is ever wasted.

        When I did science in school – many years ago, science was much more a pragmatic subject. Our A’level Chemistry teacher was an ex-industrial chemist and in those days chemistry was about getting processes to work on budget and with high yields. OK it was destroying the planet – but they knew the value of a bob and how to earn one.

        I think we knew more in those days with a good chemistry A’level than some chemistry BSc graduates know now. We were always being told that what we were learning at A’level in Physics and Chemistry was what our teachers had learned at Uni.

        Things seem to be going backwards lately. 😦


      • Banana,
        Mainframes with 256k RAM – I’m coming over all nostalgic. Then I specialised in comms and moved on to VAX clusters running async terminals (cos I was a crap programmer too, not patient enough – messsing about with soldering irons and line monitors and test kit was more fun)

        I think fatsally who is a teacher but not teaching now because she got fed up of the bullshit would agree with you about science teaching. It is far too abstract now, too much about pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge and not enough of making smells and whizzbangs, doing levitation with magnets and dissecting frogs. Childrens’ bodies may mature earlier but their minds seem to be taking longer to become adult.

        But the sciences I’m tough on are the bogus sciences like psychology, behavioural science, that sort of thing.


      • I was thinking more of Terry Pratchett, he uses something very close to that phrase in “Making Money” in which Moist von Lipwig (a wonderful name) is made head of the bank of Ankh Morpork and discovers the terrible secret of the Discwold economy.

        The story explains the economic crash better than any academic volume could and gives you a lot more laughs. Best to read “Going Postal” first if you haven’t already. It isn’t exactly a prequel but it helps to be familiar with some of the characters.


      • Sir,
        To Terry Pratchett: the motto of a chapter in a (language related) lecture I give presently is “Words have sex in foreign parts” (, said Nanny hopefully – in Witches Abroad) :>


    • Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind…
      Computer approved version. Holding grudges isn’t nice.

      Macbeth’s solioquy:
      Tomorrow and all the days after that go very slowly until the end of the world and the past has only been a perparation for death. Switch the light off, Each man is but a bad actor who walks about on the stage but does not project his voice so he can be heard in the back stalls. Life is a story written by an incompetent human being, noisy and angry but without meaning.

      Yeah well, I can see it packing in the kind of people who think Artificial Intelligence is a real possibility. It somehow does not convey the emotion though does it?




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