All work and no pay

11th August 2000 at 01:00
Teachers should be paid for the unwelcome task of marking coursework which has been forced on them by examination boards, argues Laurence Alster.

FOR teachers, the summer holiday brings benefits common to all with time off from the job - the chance, say, to do more with the kids, to catch up on some neglected DIY, to look up friends not seen for ages. These are the good bits. The rest is business as usual. As we all know (apart from our neighbours - "Huh, teachers' holidays"), there is work to be done for the coming academic year: revising notes and hand-outs, browsing the latest textbooks, putting files in order and so on.

Well, nothing's perfect. But there is one factor that makes the summer break as close to nirvana as it's possible to get, even with the British weather. I am talking about the blessed absence of marking. More than anything, summer means evenings free from the dismal obligation to tick, cross, comment and total.

There once was a golden age - not much more than two decades ago, in fact - when teachers could wave goodbye to much of their marking load around about the start of June, when students took their O and A-levels. Even if there were still some marking to do for the remaining classes, the exam system, as it was then, meant at least a partial lightening of the load.

But this was before the exam boards took up the coursework option. Where once exam papers were taken in, parcelled up and posted to the exam boards for marking by paid examiners, today a substantial proportion of the marking is done literally in-house. That is, by teachers at home - for which task they get not a penny.

This is a burden about which teachers complain more bitterly every year. With coursework now a mandatory element in many, if not most, syllabuses, teachers are lumbered with a task for which they are seldom praised, sometimes blamed, but never paid.

What started with English courses has now spread, like a blight, to other syllabuses - art, for example. Many art teachers not only have to mark students' practical pieces, but also stacks of written work. One exam board even stipulates that teachers mount an exhibition of students' work, a time-consuming business for which there is often no extra time and certainly no payment. This is on top of lengthy standardisation meetings, let alone piles of forms to fill. All unpaid, naturally.

Talk to other teachers of, say, sociology, IT, maths, English or psychology and they al say the same: each year brings the added burden of hours of unpaid work for exam boards seemingly more concerned with loot than with learning.

It's a charge the exam boards counter largely with complacency. Paul Sokholov, spokesman for the Joint Council for General Qualifications (the body that represents the exam boards), says his organisation is satisfied with things as they stand: "Payment for teachers is an area we try to stay well away from, because it's not our legitimate province. It would be inappropriate for us to interfere with terms and conditions."

No surprises there, least of all for Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. Not paying teachers their dues is one thing, compounding the offence with "bureaucratic

bullshit" - multiple meetings and detailed annotation of coursework - adds insult to misery.

"It's a back-door way into a teacher's contract," says Mr de Gruchy, condemning the open-ended conditions of service that mean teachers can be asked to do almost anything that benefits students.

Now, though, many teachers have had enough. Having several times complained without result to the exam boards, the NASUWT has advised its members to stop annotating exam scripts. And the union, together with the National Union of

Teachers, recently voted in favour of action to reduce the everyday weight of paperwork.

While some teachers are lucky enough to be able to choose between syllabuses that do or don't demand coursework, others are denied that option. Exam boards that, in future, offer a choice of formats might be pleasantly surprised by the numbers that migrate from one to the other. Following the return of A-levels, thousands of teachers now face the grim prospect of marking coursework at the end of Years 12 and 13; plenty of these unpaid labourers will be looking to lighten the load.

Exam board officials are quick to point out that they represent charitable institutions operating essentially in their clients' (ie the students') interests. But many teachers now believe that this is much more a flag of convenience than of conviction.

These teachers are beginning to recognise where charity properly begins - at home. Not that they're asking for charity, but for payment long overdue. It is time teachers got what they deserve.

Laurence Alster teaches media studies at the South Downs College in Waterlooville, Hampshire

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