To secure the future of examining, we need you

27th November 2015 at 00:00
Teacher-examiners are essential to ensure fair outcomes for pupils. But a new coalition of organisations says the benefits of getting involved are pedagogical, too

You are the backbone of the exam system. The thousands of dedicated teachers who also serve as examiners make it possible for our young people to obtain their qualifications. Throughout the year, and especially during those few crucial weeks in the summer, many of you deploy your professional expertise as markers to make sure students receive what we all want: grades that are a fair and accurate reflection of their work.

Teachers examine for a multitude of reasons. Many see examining as a way of contributing their expertise for the benefit of students. For others, it is an extension of the commitment and passion they have for their subject. And there is, of course, a financial benefit. Above all, though, teachers see the difference examining can make to their teaching and to their students’ education.

Having enough expert, high-quality examiners is essential to achieving reliable results. But teachers are increasingly realising that examining directly benefits their classroom practice. Examining is CPD that trains you in assessment, enhances your understanding of the relationship between pedagogy and assessment, and develops your knowledge of what constitutes the required standard in a qualification. It can improve your teaching and the education your students receive.

Getting exam marking right is challenging. Although it is, of course, impossible to eliminate every last error in a system that depends on tens of thousands of human beings, the proportion of grades changed on appeal is small: less than 1 per cent of the 8 million GCSEs and A-levels awarded each year. However, we must constantly strive to reduce this number – especially since current reforms to GCSE, A-level and vocational qualifications will bring new challenges, with more written assessment and more rigorous moderation of work marked in schools and colleges.

Working together

Exam boards can do, and are doing, lots of things to get ever closer to this goal. The latest assessment research is used to improve the design of specifications, question papers and mark schemes. The boards aim to learn lessons from each summer series and apply them the following year. Quality assurance processes are continually being enhanced.

But there’s one thing the boards can’t do themselves: the system depends on you to mark and moderate those 8 million qualifications each year, so that our young people get the fair and accurate grades they deserve. And school and college leaders’ support for their staff to become examiners is crucial.

We need to continue to improve the quality of marking, in the face of a higher volume of assessment and tougher exam questions requiring longer and more complex answers. Reformed GCSE, A-level and vocational qualifications mean thousands more examiners will be needed each summer. We need to bring more teachers into the examining profession and, over the long term, build a culture where examining is even more valued and valuable. Every teacher and leader must recognise the importance of playing their part – and the benefits that examining can bring to their classroom practice and their students’ education.

That’s why we – the Association of School and College Leaders, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference and the NAHT headteachers’ union, along with the major exam boards and the Joint Council for Qualifications – have come together to address this challenge head-on. We believe there is huge potential benefit to the exam system – and education as a whole – from school and college leaders and exam boards working together to address this challenge.

We understand the need for examining to be an attractive and valuable activity for teachers and their institutions. And we share the view that attracting more teachers to become examiners will benefit not only the qualifications system but also schools, colleges and young people, through a greater understanding among teachers of assessment best practice.

Our working group is reviewing the incentives, disincentives and barriers to teachers becoming (and remaining) examiners. We are considering the development of examiners as professionals and the impact of examining on teachers’ classroom practice. And we are developing a compelling proposition for schools and colleges to support and encourage staff to join and remain in the examining profession.

The exam boards will each continue their own work to improve marking, while the heads’ associations will remain critical friends of the boards, offering challenge when problems arise, being a voice for teachers, parents and students when things go wrong, and proposing positive solutions to shared concerns.

Share your thoughts

We’re delighted to have strong support from ministers for this cross-organisation initiative, but the solution must be system-led, not imposed by government. For us to set out how we can build that capacity and culture over time, we need to understand why teachers become examiners – and why you don’t.

Whether you’re an examiner, have been one in the past or have always dismissed it, you can help us to find the answers. What would prompt you to become an examiner, or discourage you from doing so? We want to understand your good and bad experiences of examining, especially how it benefits your classroom practice. If you’re a school or college leader, tell us how the examiners in your staff benefit their students’ education, and how they share their expertise within your institution. Or, tell us why you have concerns about your teachers’ examining and what would change your mind.

We know there are no easy answers. Most examining will always have to fit into a fairly short period in the summer and, in a time of constrained budgets in education, exam boards must be pragmatic when setting markers’ fees. But we believe there are considerable benefits for teachers and their institutions in becoming examiners, and we want to understand how to boost those benefits and spread them throughout the system.

We need teachers to help us build an exam system that will secure our young people the results that they – and you – deserve. Please share your thoughts with the working group. Email to contribute your experiences, ideas and suggestions.

William Burton, chief executive, OCR; Patrick Craven, director of assessment policy and quality, City & Guilds UK; Lesley Davies, senior vice-president, qualifications, standards and efficacy, Pearson UK; Anne Marie Duffy, director of qualifications, CCEA; Andrew Hall, chief executive, AQA; Russell Hobby, general secretary, NAHT; Chris King, chairman, HMC; Brian Lightman, general secretary, ASCL; Gareth Pierce, chief executive, WJEC; Michael Turner, director general, JCQ

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