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Make your mark in a growth area: exams

For the good of your career, volunteer to mark papers. Think of it as professional development: you will see your skills and subject in a new light, writes Jill Parkin.

It's been another tiring week, you're a bit late tonight because you stayed late at school to coach the netball team and you're ready to flop into a chair and challenge the remote control. How about doing some external examining instead, in the interests not just of extra cash but also professional development?

Sabbatical study leave may be a pipe dream with the current level of staff shortages, but test and exam marking can broaden your knowledge and improve your teaching effectiveness. You will see your subject in a new light and you meet other professionals.

It's a growth market too. Last year 40,000 examiners, most of them practising teachers, marked scripts and moderated coursework for 750,000 A-level entries and 5.5 million GCSEs. With AS-levels and new external assessment for GNVQs, there's more work coming up.

Paul Barras, headteacher of Hugh Faringdon school, an 11-16 Catholic secondary in Reading, encourages his staff to become examiners, believing it pays off both in the classroom and on the CV.

"I encourage it because it will make them much more aware of the nature and standards of the new qualifications. It adds to the range and depth of skills shared in the school and that is the basis of school improvement.

"But examining takes teachers out of the classroom and, even with the exam boards paying the costs of supply cover, it is never as satisfactory for a class as having their regular teacher.

"'I also feel that teachers no longer have the summer term freed up in the way that they used to. Today, a much greater amount of training and planning for the coming year seems to happen at that time. Teachers must be well organised to fit everything in effectively.

"Having said that, I am convinced that the positives outweigh the negatives. The knowledge of standardising processes and cross moderation, the understanding of what makes a level and the ability to set questions that really work - these are skills that do not just benefit exam classes, but are transferable to key stage 3 too.

"The increased contact you get with other schools and departments improves your own teaching effectiveness. I see examining work as a key part of a teacher's professional development. When appointing new staff, the fact that they examine or moderate suggests to me that they are showing a genuine interest in curriculum development and raising standards."

Examiners and moderators often comment on how rewarding it is to witness the culmination of years of teaching.

Keith Skippins, who teaches in Huddersfield and is an examiner for Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations, says another bonus is meeting other teachers. "Initially I got involved in examining to improve my knowledge of the subject. I came out of industry into teaching about 20 years ago and I missed getting out and about and meeting colleagues. Through examining I've built up a strong network of contacts as well as some long-term friendships and it's really important to me to have that wider experience of the subject.

"I think even with all the extra information that the boards provide nowadays, there's no replacement for the discussion that takes place at training and standardising meetings. That's what's beneficial, not the mark scheme on its own."

Mr Skippins acknowledges that the time constraints are "very demanding", but the rewards outbalance the cons.

"You have to put everything else to one side and some people can't do that, especially if they have young families. You have to be very disciplined to meet the deadlines.

"But examining is the best possible in-service training a teacher can get. Not only is it free training and professional development, you actually get paid for doing it. As far as development and improving knowledge of the subject, it's second to none."

Rates of pay and workload vary. For details contact the boards:AQA, tel 0161 953 1180, tel 0870 240 9800, tel 01223 552552, tel 02920 265000, tel 02890 261200

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