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It pays to make a mark

Marking KS2 scripts not only brings in extra cash - it improves classroom practice too, writes Jill Parkin.

Got any spare time? Fancy marking a few hundred exam papers? That's what thousands of teachers, retired, part-time, on a career break, and even working full-time, are doing this half-term.

National tests for 11-year-olds may still be controversial educationally, but those who mark them - this year there will be 5,400 markers - say they benefit in several ways, whether it's keeping in touch, improving their own teaching or networking.

Many of the markers are women on a baby break who find the job gives them a much-needed cash and CV boost. When Andrea Featherstone went along to her first training session as a SATs marker in 1995, baby came too. "She was just two weeks old, and I couldn't leave her at home because I was breastfeeding. That year she had red marker pen all over her Babygros, because I was marking with one hand and feeding her with the other.

"I started marking because I was having a child break, and marked key stage 2 English for seven years," says Ms Featherstone, a part-time special needs teacher at St Paulinus C of E primary school in Crayford, in the London borough of Bexley. Now in her eighth year of marking, she's a test team leader, responsible for ensuring consistency of marking across her group of examiners.

"It's good for professional development, good for making you a better teacher. I'd particularly recommend it for those who have special needs responsibilities, and for literacy and numeracy curriculum leaders.

"You get a good overview because you see so many scripts from so many schools. And you see what's being tested clearly, which may make you, for example, emphasise extended writing in your own teaching.

"I'm not sure how full-time classroom teachers fit it in, though. I mark 450 scripts and check a further 40 as team leader. I allow about an hour a child."

Ms Featherstone has seen some big changes since the tests started - the most significant being the amount of reading the children are required to absorb and be questioned on. "It's now down to around 800 words, which is much more appropriate," she says.

"The other big change is in performance, not so much in the Year 7 progress scripts as in key stage 2. In many respects the literacy strategy has been brilliant. There has been huge progress in terms of language, which has become much more sophisticated. Their writing is imaginative and has much more shape and technique."

KS2 markers are expected to process about 300 papers in four weeks between early May and early June, for which they are paid on average pound;900. You need to be a qualified teacher with at least three years' experience, but you do not have to be teaching currently.

Test marking appeals to heads, because it gives them an overview of teaching methods and attainment nationwide; marker-teachers go back to their schools and share good practice with colleagues.

Richard Ledger is a busy man. He's head of Grass Royal junior school in Yeovil, Somerset, and chief marker for maths AQA eastern region, which puts him in overall charge of 300,000 papers - and his school's Ofsted inspection is coming up in July. "It's going to be a great summer holiday," he says.

He started marking in the first year of SATs for the money, like anyone else. Seven years later he's still doing it and is convinced of its professional benefits. "My national work is very important to me and I can see my own development going in that direction," he says. "It's a great opportunity to see how other schools prepare their pupils for tests. It's hard work because you effectively lose your half-term holiday and you may well be preparing reports, too.

"If you're marking 400 papers from several regions, you can pick out the schools of excellence - these are schools I'd like to visit, schools that do exceptionally well for their intake profile.

"It has certainly informed my teaching. For example, I'd always taught long division and long multiplication in a fairly traditional way, as I was taught myself. But I could tell from the papers that other methods worked better for some pupils, and I now use a variety of methods, with better results. The numeracy strategy has improved pupils' performance in long division, long multiplication and mental maths. That's clear from marking.

"You can also see that some schools coach to the tests a great deal. That's not the way I'd ever play it as a teacher. I hope we're improving our children's performance, but not that way."

The national tests go hand in hand with the national curriculum, the one testing the effectiveness of the other. For Jill Kee, a retired junior teacher from Lincolnshire, marking key stage 2 English papers has been a revelation. "It is an eye-opener to see the full range of ability," she says. "The children we were trying so hard with were geniuses compared to some poor little souls."

"I get a great deal of satisfaction out of marking the papers, though I don't know how anyone with a full teaching load would be able to do it. If you're part-time or having a career break, I should think it's professionally beneficial. You can spot where the weak areas are, see the questions children struggle with, and think how you can brush up on it.

"Last year, for the first time, each marker had a report sheet to complete at the end of marking. This meant we could give feedback on anything we thought ambiguous.

"I'm very pro national curriculum and you can see from the national tests how children have benefited from it. The system of national curriculum and testing ensures that every child has the opportunity to benefit. It has put a safety net in place."

AQA is the marking agency for 2003 as well as this year. Email: ks2amp;3-recruitment@ aqa.org.uk or visit the website at www.aqa.org.uk, or the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's website at www.qca.org.uk.

ON YOUR MARKS

* Key stage 2 script examiners work in teams of about 10 with a team leader whose responsibility is to make sure everyone is marking to the same standard.

* Scripts are sent directly from school to marker, who marks in red pen.

* Some scripts are sent to the team leader for marking to be checked, in green pen. The team leader liaises with markers to ensure uniformity of marking.

* Some scripts are sent to the AQA, where they are copied and used as a guide for grade levels and pupil performance.

* Once the marks have been checked, grade boundaries are fixed at the AQA's awarding meetings. These fix the conversion of marks into grades. The idea is to maintain grades over time and across syllabuses. The marker re-marks any scripts just under a grade borderline.

* The scripts are finally returned to school with the marks and level filled in on a copy of the mark sheet.

* English markers are paid the most because scripts are longest. English, pound;2.75 per script; maths, pound;2.15 per script; science, pound;2 per script.

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