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Fortune seekers need not apply

Paul Fisher finds there's no easy money in marking key stage exam papers. The amount of money that schoolteachers can earn by marking exam papers is believed to have risen to nearly Pounds 25 million now that national curriculum tests for 11 and 14-year-olds are externally marked.

Key stages 2 and 3 tests have nearly doubled the sum available for marking: 1.3 million children sit the key stage tests and just under a million pupils take GCSEs and A-levels.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority appointed the exam boards to mark its national curriculum tests and the boards, wary of provoking competition among a limited pool of potential markers, have kept rates of pay on a par with GCSE and A-levels. According to a SCAA evaluation "effective rates appear to be broadly comparable to those for GCSEs". The new scales establish fees of Pounds 1.53 for KS2 science and maths, Pounds 2.05 for KS3 science and maths and KS2 English and Pounds 2.25 for KS3 English.

Fees for the boards' own exams are harder to assess. The boards dismiss requests for hourly rates as too difficult. Exams vary in complexity they say and, unlike key stage tests, are marked by more than one person.

The bad news is that SCAA itself estimates rates of pay for the 13,000 key stage test markers average around Pounds 8 to Pounds 9 per hour. An English KS3 marker confirms the figure, saying that KS3 English papers take between three and 25 minutes to mark. With an allocation of 250 papers (400 is the maximum allowed), he's expecting that 100 hours of work will yield Pounds 800. That includes training and travel expenses, plus a Pounds 4-a-meal subsistence allowance.

As a team leader, he attended two day-long meetings during the spring to prepare himself for overseeing the work of eight other markers. He also turned out for a third training day attended by all markers. Training rates are Pounds 56 a day. Hardly a fortune although the consensus is that key stage marking is a shade better paid.

Teachers give all sorts of reasons for taking on an extra-curricular load. A vox-pop of current exam-markers produced the following comments: "it's an ex-busman's holiday now I'm retired", "it will look good on the CV" and "by knowing the system I give my own pupils a better crack of the whip". Then there is "paying car bills; training away-days and a night in a decent hotel; holiday money; negative equity; alimony, and pool cleaning at my villa in Antibes".

Rules governing how the money is paid are more arcane than national curriculum requirements. Income tax is deducted at source at the basic 24 per cent. As always with tax, there are exceptional cases. Markers whose total income is below the Pounds 3,765-a-year tax threshold should submit a P46 form to their tax office. The more fortunate who anticipate a post-allowances taxable income of more than Pounds 25,500 in 1996-97 will find extra earnings taxed at 40 per cent and must settle up when tax returns are completed. Finally there are the few external markers whose main income is from self-employment and who therefore pay their entire income tax bill after the end of the financial year. They must ask exam boards for exemption forms to ensure they receive a gross payment.

The boards say each and every external examiner is self-employed and yet ensure that these freelancers are taxed sooner rather than later. This is a contradiction in accountancy terms because a defining point of self-employment is that payment of income tax is deferred.

The self-employed definition works to the boards' advantage for, conforming to the normal rules of self-employment, none of the boards pays National Insurance contributions.

Were boards to treat markers as employees, they would be liable to the 10 per cent employers' Class 1 NI levy. That could cost the taxpayer an extra Pounds 2.5m.

It follows that exam-markers, in their quasi-self-employed role, make Class 2 NI contributions on their freelance earnings. Not so. None of the teachers I talked to did any such thing. One could suspect base motives but, rather than a collective dishonesty or ignorance, here is another anomaly that is clarified by the Department of Social Security.

It makes a special case of lecturers, teachers and instructors whose main source of income is PAYE. When they double as exam-markers, fees under Pounds 800 are exempt from NI.

So too are earnings between Pounds 800 and Pounds 3,430, on condition a small earnings exemption certificate is completed. Class 2 self-employed NI payments become due on marking fees over Pounds 3,430 but, as such payments are as notional as exam markers' self-employed status, the ranks of teacher markers can breathe easy.

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