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I'm an NQT teaching English and interested in becoming an exam marker...

I'm an NQT teaching English and interested in becoming an exam marker this year. Would I qualify and is it to soon to consider this extra task?

Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own - by writing to: Dear Ted, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Or email:

Ted says

There are now so many public examinations to be marked in a short space of time, especially in a subject such as English, which virtually every candidate takes, that the exam boards will probably send a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce to fetch you. After all the abuse in the press last summer, some examiners have dropped out.

If you talk to teachers who have marked papers they will give you a mixed account. Some see it as hack work, useful for the extra cash but little else, while others will tell you it is professionally worthwhile, giving you valuable insights into marking schemes and grading procedures.

With tens of thousands of markers to be found it is likely that even students in training will be drafted in this year, so an NQT like you will be a veteran by comparison. It is the responsibility of the exam board you sign up with to train you and make sure you are fully briefed about the procedures you must follow. Backing you up should be senior examiners with years of experience.

The advantage for you and your pupils is that anything you learn about how the exam system works should help you prepare them more effectively to answer questions themselves. As this comes early in your career, it will also offer a long-term benefit.

The disadvantage is that it involves a whole stack of extra work during the summer - a busy time of the year - so you must make sure your own students are not neglected. Examiners have been under pressure recently to take on more papers and this can involve you marking hundreds of scripts in a short time.

Weigh up the pros and cons, decide whether you want to mark key stage 3, GCSE or A-level, then get in touch with the relevant board. You can always ring them up and discuss what is likely to be involved before finally deciding.

You say

Are you up to it?

Examining boards usually require a marker to have at least two years' relevant experience. This is entirely justified because an examiner needs some idea of average standards before being able to apply and interpret a marking scheme correctly, particularly in English, where assessment is often subjective. New teachers can have unrealistic expectations about spelling, grammar, punctuation and structure. Most newly qualified teachers would want to ease themselves in to their day job before taking on extra responsibilities. Marking is time-consuming and can cause additional stress.

Lynne McGurren, Manchester

A task for dedicated singletons

You'll be eligible if the exam board is short of markers. Your future teaching will benefit from external marking, and the money will certainly come in handy. Combining it with a full classroom timetable is a heroic task, but you might just about manage it if you are single or have an undemanding partner and no children, you have the self-discipline and stamina to work extra hours during the morning, evening and weekends, you already have serviceable lesson plans and you have a tolerant department head who'll leave you alone for three weeks.

Resolve that you'll have it all done by the start of July, giving yourself time to catch up on the day job, and, if the board ask you to do any extra, decline politely. Good luck.

Andy Connell, Appleby, Cumbria

It's tough but worthwhile

If you've got the energy towards the end of term to mark 300-plus scripts in three weeks, go for it. Exam boards usually demand at least two years' experience, but if you have a supportive reference from a senior colleague it shouldn't be a problem. These days the boards are so short of markers, they'll waive formal rules if they have someone who is manifestly capable of doing the job.

It's a great thing to do anyway; you get an insight in to the system, you get someone outside your everyday practice monitoring and supporting you, and you get paid - although not that much. I've always considered it odd that the newest entrants to the profession are theoretically barred from marking. I did it for years, then stopped due to the commitments of a young family - a situation young teachers often don't face.

Talk to a colleague to find out what it's really like, then if you still want to do it, fire off an application.

Chris Hole, Norfolk

Examine your motives

As a newly qualified teacher last year, I wanted to become an exam marker.

It seemed a stimulating challenge. But deep down I wanted to prove I could handle extra responsibility. What are your reasons?

Colleagues reacted negatively to my suggestion. Nobody mentioned the positive aspects of being an exam marker. So listen to advice. But do what's right for you.

An NQT year is an exciting time, with lots of new experiences. But inevitably some yearn, as I did, for greater challenges. Have you considered starting an extracurricular activity, or helping a special needs department? Something pupil-centred incorporating a QTS target will allow you to develop as a teacher while providing many challenges and responsibilities.

Christina Maylor, Merseyside

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