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Top markers take on too many scripts

Desperate exam boards are piling extra papers on to experienced examiners. Warwick Mansell report

TEACHERS are marking hundreds of extra GCSE and A-level papers this year, because of the shortage of examiners.

One experienced examiner, who spoke to The TES, is marking 1,300 A-level English literature scripts over 28 days, or 46 papers per day. Examiners were still being telephoned this week and asked to take on more scripts because other markers had taken on too many. The marker, who is no longer working as a teacher and marks throughout the spring and summer, said:

"There is a crucial shortage of examiners, which the boards are not coming clean about."

For the second year, the largest exam board, AQA, is paying teachers extra to take on more GCSE papers in subjects where there is a shortage of examiners For one English paper, at foundation level, markers get paid pound;2.90 per paper for up to 600 scripts, then 1.5 times that for 600 to 800 scripts, and double the original amount for each script for more than 800.

GCSE markers usually get around a month to complete their allocation.

Edexel had a similar incentive payment scheme for teachers taking on extra scripts.

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "I'm sure that their marking is of the highest quality, but I do worry whether they have got the time and stamina to ensure that all these scripts are given the attention they deserve. Surely it is not beyond the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to get the right number of markers."

The exam boards stress that only experienced markers are taking on heavier loads and that all marking is subject to rigorous sample checks by senior examiners. Those not working as teachers would find it easier to mark more papers.

But the figures provide an insight into the lengths to which boards have to go to ensure that millions of scripts get marked this year. In May, The TES revealed how Adam Oliver, an English teacher at an Oxfordshire comprehensive, resigned as an examiner after being asked to mark 400 AS-level Shakespeare scripts in 40 to 50 hours, or one every six minutes.

The exam boards have recruited slightly more examiners this year than last, and Ken Boston, QCA chief executive, has said he is "guardedly confident" that marking will run smoothly.

One senior GCSE examiner, who said she never took on more than 300 papers, said: "Taking on, say 900 scripts, is very difficult. You would have to be a very, very alert examiner to cope with that."

However, she said that markers had to number the scripts they marked. The high-numbered scripts are subject to extra checks. Only very experienced markers would take on large loads, she said. Most teachers were not marking scripts in these numbers.

A spokeswoman for the QCA said: "All examiners' marking is rigorously checked throughout the marking process.

"The number of scripts allocated to examiners depends on the nature of the paper, the examiner's experience and the time they have available. The code of practice requires that awarding bodies take these factors into account when allocating scripts."

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