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Schools urged to carry extra burden of exams

Serious shortage of examiners sparks calls for heads to release staff for up to 10 days to avert crisis

TEACHERS are being asked to take up to 10 days off lessons next term to mark A-level and GCSE papers as a shortage of examiners looms.

Exam boards are urging schools to release experienced examiners to take on double their normal marking load.

The scheme is being paid for under a pound;6 million government drive to ensure exams run smoothly this year after last autumn's A-level debacle.

It follows exam regulator Ken Boston's warning over the difficulty in recruiting 50,000 examiners to mark 24 million scripts.

Shortages are affecting 55 subjects ranging from A-level history, English and geography to GCSEs in music, RE and business studies and a general national vocational qualification in art. Schools which release staff will receive pound;1,750 per examiner to pay for supply staff, and teachers could earn more than pound;600 after tax for taking on the work, which might take 50 hours.

But headteachers warned that students' education could be damaged because of the national shortage of good supply teachers.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority-backed plan is outlined in a letter to heads from John Milner, convener of the Joint Council for General Qualifications, which covers the three biggest exam boards.

Boards are writing to examiners for A-level, GCSE, GNVQ and English key stage 3 tests, asking them to take on a second load, possibly of an extra 250 papers. Schools would be compensated for releasing a teacher for up to 10 days from mid-June to late July. Teachers would get pound;10-pound;12 an hour for the extra work.

But Dr Rob Wilkinson, principal of 1,600-student Hills Road sixth- form college, Cambridge, said he would be reluctant to comply.

He said: "Either staff would have to miss the development and training work we do at that time, or the teaching they do when our lower sixth students return after exams.

"It is very difficult to get satisfactory supply teachers. The ASA2 exam specifications mean there is no spare time in the year."

Sue Kirkham, head of Walton high school, in Stafford, feared pupils'

education could suffer if she could not find good supply staff. She said:

"Some heads and principals would be prepared to support this but there are all sorts of problems."

The move comes as the Government tries to cut teachers' workloads. Chris Healy, head of Balcarras school, Cheltenham, said: "Resistance may well come from teachers themselves. Many are doing as much marking as they can cope with already."

Ralph Edwards, a design and technology teacher at Balcarras, said he would reject an approach he had at the weekend to take on an extra 250 scripts in A-level product design.

He said: "If I was going home after school, spending two to three hours marking exam papers, coming in the next day and spending time again marking more scripts...I don't think I could do it."

The QCA hoped up to 2,000 examiners would take part in the scheme and a parallel project to set up a small number of dedicated examination centres this summer.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We have confidence that heads and principals will act responsibly and in the best interests of their students."

Exam boards are looking at resolving the exam crisis by using new technology. Edexcel said this week it could use a new scheme, in which scripts are scanned into computers and marks tallied automatically, to help examiners mark more papers this summer.

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