Examiners offer 'insider information' for cash

23rd December 2011 at 00:00
Lucrative courses for teachers and pupils can help build a 'nice little nest egg'

Examiners in England 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 has revealed.

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 practice was "immoral" and gave some pupils an unfair advantage, while John Bangs, a visiting professor at London University's Institute of Education, called on exams regulator Ofqual to investigate a market he said it was failing to control.

UK ministers are already considering a complete restructuring 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.

The Telegraph'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 - although there is no evidence that these private courses break the rules by providing confidential information about future exams.

Exam Confidence, a company offering pupils #163;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, claimed examiners got paid "peanuts" by their boards but could make an extra #163;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 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 #163;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".

Ofqual said it would consider concerns over examiners' private work as part of a review of conflicts of interest it had started before last month'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

The Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove intends to reform the exam system "early in the new year" and recently claimed a single exam board "was the most compelling answer at the moment".

This contradicts ministers' recent call for 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. Others suggest the writing of papers could be hived off to universities, a quango or an independent trust.

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