Exclusive: AQA's 'emotional blackmail' on examiner pay

Examiners for UK's largest board say they are 'astounded' they will get no goodwill payments after exams were cancelled

Catherine Lough

Coronavirus GCSEs and A levels: AQA examiners are frustrated that they won't receive a goodwill payment after the cancellation of this summer's exams

Examiners for the UK's largest school exam board have said they are "astounded" that they will not receive a goodwill payment following the cancellation of this term's exams

The AQA examiners, who usually only work during the summer marking GCSE and A-level papers, have been told that they are ineligible for furlough and will not receive any ex-gratia payments, Tes has learned.


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Examiners at the two other main UK school exam boards have been offered goodwill payments. 

But AQA's interim chief executive, Mark Bedlow, has said the amounts offered by other boards were not "significant" and that payments to summer examiners would mean less money available "to return to schools and colleges".

The board says it has received positive comments from examiners saying it had made "the right decision" because they had not done any work.

However Tes has spoken to AQA examiners who say many are unhappy and that there is a "lot of frustration" among markers for the board.

Coronavirus: Anger at AQA decision not to pay examiners

"There’s an understanding that furloughing may not necessarily be an option," one examiner said. "But I think when you’ve got some awarding bodies that have furloughed and others who have offered payments of recognition for loyalty or as a gesture, to turn round and say they weren’t going to offer anything at all to anybody below the level of assistant lead examiner or moderator – which is quite a big proportion of their examining and moderating workforce – doesn’t seem fair."

The examiner said an email had been sent from Mr Bedlow to summer examiners advising that "where some other exam boards have offered small payments to summer associates [examiners], these have not been significant enough to make a difference on an individual basis – which makes the overall cost to schools and colleges difficult to justify".

The examiner told Tes: "They said it would be too insignificant an amount of money, but the problem for lots of examiners is this is not pin money, for a lot of us we actually rely on a significant part of our income from AQA.

"It’s not a bit of extra holiday cash, it’s a significant chunk of your income. Many of us have also gone part-time in our teaching jobs or have turned down other work to commit time to the summer marking.

"They talked about refunding schools and colleges for their exam fees, which I think is a good thing, but it was pitched as, ‘Well, they get that money or you do,’ and I don’t think that’s fair. It’s not a simple binary choice – AQA could do both – and I thought it was a bit of emotional blackmail there."

A second examiner source, a team leader who has worked with AQA for 18 years, said that "to then receive nothing from AQA, it was just a bit astounding".

"The thing that angered me most was the tone of that letter from Mark Bedlow that came out to associates – that line where he said it’s not significant enough to make a difference – it’s not up to them to decide financially what’s significant to an associate.

"And then the implication further down in that letter that they wouldn’t pay us anyway because they couldn’t justify it to schools and colleges, and I just think that’s a horrendous thing to say to examiners – it’s almost saying schools and colleges are way more important, and we don’t want to ruin our reputation with them, rather than you as a workforce who we rely on."

They said the board might struggle to attract senior examiners in the future, who supervise marking appeals and reviews.

"There’s been no loyalty shown from AQA so now I think, why would I turn down contracts with other boards and be loyal to AQA?" they said.

Lead examiners for the board have been offered an enhanced responsibility fee of £500 but all markers below this level have not.

Cambridge Assessment, which runs OCR, has offered examiners ex-gratia payments of £250.

Pearson Edexcel said it would not furlough examiners as it believed this scheme had been put in place to support smaller businesses, but has offered payments to senior examiners, which will be the equivalent of 80 per cent of their earnings from May to August last year. 

An AQA spokesperson said: “Our examiners play a vital role in the exam system so we want to support them where we can – but we’ve also promised to return any savings as a result of the cancellation of exams this summer to schools and colleges.

"We’ve been looking into whether it was possible to furlough our examiners, but sadly they’re not eligible – so instead we’re making payments to our senior examiners who work with us throughout the year.”

“After a lot of thought, we made the difficult decision that we can’t justify making payments to all our examiners who won’t need to do any work for us this summer. We have tens of thousands of examiners, so even a small payment to each of them would have come to millions of pounds that we wouldn’t be able to return to schools.

“Lots of examiners have been in touch to tell us that they understand and support our decision, and we’re really grateful for that.”

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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