The Future for The Examiner, views and suggestions sought

As OCR releases a report on the future of examining, Paula Goddard, Senior Examiner and Fellow of The Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, asks other CIEA members what they think that future should look like

Earning extra income and gaining insight into assessment are the top two reasons why teachers become examiners, according to OCR’s The Future for Examining report (October 2015) http://www.ocr.org.uk/news/view/the-future-for-examining/

This national survey of almost 1000 examiners is a response to growing concerns that with the ever-increasing number of exams needed to be marked each year the industry is going to run out of examiners. And there is some basis for this concern because OCR’s own research findings show that 25% of examiners do not return to examining each year – with the two main reasons cited as insufficient pay and insufficient time.

So what’s to be done to attract, retain and train examiners?

The response by OCR’s own examiners followed by a debate between educationalists and policy makers (including the Chair of the CIEA Sue Kirkham MBE) led OCR to conclude that:

  • examiner pay should allow for pay progression and remain competitive with teachers’ careers
  • examiners be offered a clear career progression route and professional development
  • experienced examiners be allowed to explore examining at a ‘sophisticated level’ through training
  • supply teachers and teaching assistants should be targeted to widen the pool of examiners

So these are the broad brush suggestions but no specific route to how these would be achieved was put forward. So let’s suggest some.

I would like your views on how we, as members of the CIEA along with fellow examiners and specialists working for awarding bodies, can put these ideas into practice and stem the tide of examiners leaving the profession – let’s face it with a turnover rate higher than the care industry (19% according to 2004 data) the examining industry has an both an actual and an image problem.

So what exactly could the industry do?

Pay progression would help, as OCR identified, so perhaps the examining industry should use a pay scale where examiner pay is specifically linked to an employment position or qualifications – so an examiner holding a senior position within a school, or having a high level qualification (say a Masters degree, or be a Chartered Educational Assessor) would be on a higher pay grade for example. Or examiners who have marked with the same exam board for, say, three or more exam series in succession would receive a loyalty payment.

But who are the examiners? At the moment the majority of examiners are teachers (86% of OCR’s examiners are currently serving teachers) but is the industry targeting the correct parts of the industry?

AQA’s research arm CERP in their 2014 paper Who is the specialist? The effect of specialisms on the marking reliability of an English literature examination https://cerp.aqa.org.uk/research-library/who-is-the-specialist concluded that examiners from sixth form colleges had almost twice as many specialisms as examiners from academies and comprehensives and ‘appear to experience fewer difficulties with their marking’ and ‘should be encouraged’ to become examiners.

And should the industry be looking outside teaching for its examiners? If OCR’s research applies across all exam boards then we find that 6% of examiners are people of retirement age who are have never been teachers, and the remaining 8% are unaccounted for. My own experience shows that the unaccounted are often experienced assessment professionals who have come into examining via self-employment, home tuition, higher and further education and industry-specific vocations (such as Chartered engineers acting as external verifiers or child care specialists acting as new exam specification consultants) – shouldn’t the industry be encouraging more of these vocational experts and so widening the pool of potential examiner applicants?

And what part should CPD play in helping examiners ‘explore examining to a sophisticated level’? Should professional bodies be offering courses in how to design new specifications, or writing mark schemes using different models? Or courses on ‘soft skills’ such as mentoring others or leadership skills? These last two areas are too often overlooked and as Ofqual noted in its Review of Quality of Marking report (2014) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/quality-of-marking-in-gcses-and-a-levels

that examiners who work as Team Leaders:

“despite their additional responsibilities, they do not usually receive any formal training in the soft skills needed to manage a team”

and conclude (highlighted in bold in the report):

“Whatever forms of training they give, exam boards should continue to make the senior examiner role more professional, making sure senior examiners have the skills and understanding to design high-quality assessments.”

So having better paid and better trained examiners is a must – but how are we to achieve that?

Let me know your views and your suggestions. This can be done by contacting the CIEA’s Press Office on dorothy.lepkowska@ciea.org.uk or Head Office on stephanie.bell@ciea.org.uk

I look forward to reading your views.

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