NQTs need a chance to make their marks

3rd September 2010 at 01:00

Exam results and the advent of the next brood of senior pupils virtually coincide. It's always hard to imagine the latest aspiring hopefuls progressing to being next year's statistics. Yet teachers are already making tentative judgments about who will attain which band next August.

Pupils quickly shake down to a level. This doesn't mean they are set in tablets of stone - far from it. Many leap grades in an academic session. But, for some pupils, the external exam is a struggle in which they don't do themselves justice. Others unexpectedly underperform on the day. They are the ones whose results are out of kilter with their predictions and for whom an appeal will be launched. These results are delivered to schools in September.

The cycle of assessment goes on. Many teachers commit to exam-marking during May and June; without them, the system couldn't function. Some subjects are marked centrally in Dunfermline. This involves the markers engaging in a mass marking session over several days.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority makes sure the markers are comfortably accommodated and well fed - maybe a shallow observation, but the job is draining and energy levels need to be boosted. Markers work long days and are rewarded by visibly dwindling piles of scripts.

It's a brilliant system for the candidates. They have a first-class deal. Markers mark the papers and have their marks checked by a member of the examining team. Issues with marking - too lenient or severe or inconsistent - are identified, discussed and acted upon. Feedback is instant.

Markers spend a great deal of time poring over scripts, trying, for example, to decode illegible writing to give the candidate the best chance to perform as well as possible. As the marking is at a central location, the principal assessor is available all the time and queries can be dealt with quickly and consistently. It's an eloquent example of a team working collaboratively.

But some markers, including me, are no longer spring chickens. Figures on new teacher employment make grim reading: the recent TESS probationer survey (August 20) revealed that only 9 per cent found a permanent job in the authority which trained them and fewer than 3 per cent have found one elsewhere. So how will the profession benefit from a flourish of new ideas? The knock-on effect will touch all areas of education, including marking for the SQA.

Teachers who have presented candidates for exams for three years are eligible to apply to be Higher grade markers. Yet how will we ever have a tranche of securely-employed young teachers who will step up and learn from experienced markers if NQTs don't get permanent jobs? Piecemeal employment will not qualify the teacher for future marking duties. Being in your second or third year of supply is hardly likely to give you the depth of vision to take on commitments outside the classroom.

NQTs are desperately needed in the classrooms, but they are also required to be movers and shakers in the wider world. Eventually, it becomes too tiring to keep riding the wave, and the next generation must take over. But too many of them are stranded on the shore through no fault of their own.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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