Examiners' bit on the side

16th December 2011 at 00:00
Courses offering `insider information' in exchange for cash are branded `immoral'

Examiners are making thousands of extra pounds a year by coaching teachers and pupils in private courses that offer "insider information" into the qualifications they set and mark, TES can reveal.

England's big three exam boards all have examiners, some very senior, who are involved in a lucrative side business where courses can cost hundreds of pounds a head.

One examiner, who is not involved, said the enterprise was "immoral" and gave some pupils an unfair advantage, while an academic called on exams regulator Ofqual to investigate a market he said it was failing to control.

Shocked ministers are already considering a complete restructure of the exams system following Daily Telegraph revelations that examiners have been "cheating" by offering teachers detailed information on future exams and boasting about how easy their qualifications are. The news that examiners are also selling their expertise privately will only heap more pressure on the system.

Last week's revelations concerned official meetings organised by the exam boards. But TES has established that a parallel industry exists allowing examiners to make much more money by working through private companies.

There is no evidence that these private courses break the rules by providing confidential information about future exams, but the news has still angered critics. John Bangs, a visiting professor at London University's Institute of Education, said: "Ofqual has not done anything to investigate how far this practice goes.

"Wherever it sees adverts (for private courses with examiners) it has to explore what is going on."

Exam Confidence, a company offering pupils pound;200-a-day revision courses with senior examiners, says on its website: "Nobody knows better than the examiners how they want the AS and A2 . exam questions to be answered.

"After all, they are the ones who write, set and moderate the exams! Through their excellent and insightful tuition, they will be able to pass on insider information to you, enabling you to achieve the best possible grades."

Miranda Banks, from Exam Confidence, said there was "massive demand" for such courses because exam technique was not always taught well. She claimed examiners got paid "peanuts" by their boards but could make an extra pound;5,000 a year from speaking at private events. "If you are canny about it, you could certainly make a nice little nest egg," she said.

One company told TES it paid examiners a "few hundred pounds a day" to speak to teachers, which it claimed was several times what they were paid to talk at official exam board events.

Alan Perks, an Edexcel chief examiner who helped devise the board's A- level drama and theatre studies qualification, has set up his own company, dramaperks. He will visit schools for "pound;250 plus travel" to provide "an invaluable insight" into the qualification. Another examiner claimed this service represented a conflict of interest and was "immoral" because it allowed schools to buy an unfair advantage.

But Mr Perks said his courses were based on information already in the public domain and did not divulge anything about future exams.

Examiners have not broken any rules by doing such work. One exam board - Edexcel - is tightening up its regulations from next March by barring examiners from offering pupils advice or training on papers they have helped develop.

Apart from that, examiners are free to offer any private courses to teachers and pupils, providing they do not trade on their exam board's name. But they can still say they are an examiner with "a major exam board" and the rule does little in practice to prevent courses being sold on the expertise an examiner has in a particular qualification.

Teachers First, which charges teachers pound;234 a day for talks with one of 20-30 current senior examiners, tailors courses to qualifications offered by specific boards. The link between the board and the examiner concerned is not made explicit, but the examiner is named and Carol Turner, a partner with the firm, said teachers could "put two and two together quite quickly".

"Most reliable A-level teachers know who their chief examiner is," she said. "It is quite obvious when you have an AQA (qualification) course you won't have anybody from OCR."

Ofqual said it would consider concerns over examiners' private work as part of a review of conflicts of interest that it had started before last week's revelations.

Both AQA and OCR said their examiners were not employees so they had no legal right to stop them working for other organisations, though they were banned from using their links with the boards for commercial gain.

But an Edexcel spokeswoman said: "In March 2011 we informed all examiners that as of March 2012 examiners who have been involved with the development of examination papers will no longer be permitted to offer students any training or advice whatsoever for those examinations."

CALL FOR REFORM

Last week's revelations over inside information offered to teachers could be as damaging for exam boards as expenses were for MPs and phone hacking was for News International.

Michael Gove intends to reform the exam system "early in the new year" following the evidence of a "race to the bottom". The education secretary was last week quoted in The Daily Telegraph saying that a single exam board "was the most compelling answer at the moment".

A solution that radical would contradict the stress that ministers only last month placed on the need for competition in the qualifications market. It would also leave the Government vulnerable in any future exams scandal.

A more likely outcome may be having one board per subject, though this would also reduce the benefits of competition. Others are suggesting that the actual writing of papers could be hived off to universities, a quango or an independent trust, leaving the boards to do the rest.

In Wales, where the government is the exams regulator, education minister Leighton Andrews announced on Wednesday a review of the qualifications market, saying he was "very concerned" by the revelations.

Original headline: Examiners offer `insider information' in exchange for cash

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