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Education Forum regular Joe Nutt highlights a conflict of interest in examiners selling exam-preparation advice

It’s some years now since the schools inspectorate, Ofsted, introduced a ban on its own inspectors moonlighting in schools. Quite a few enterprising individuals who had been trained and paid by Ofsted to inspect schools, created an additional lucrative opportunity selling their services personally and directly to anxious headteachers, offering schools what came to be called Mocksteds; a kind of horse’s mouth preparation for the real thing, only without the blessing of the British Horseracing Authority. It took Ofsted far too long to recognise the problem, step in to put an end to it.   

Today we have a similar issue involving GCSE and A level examiners. Businesses, other organisations and some individual examiners, are selling their services to teachers and even in some cases students, under the guise of study days and training events.

One business describing itself as ‘the leading provider of external educational study days in the UK’ advertises a course for teachers and students, where the key attraction is that it is run by the Chair of Examiners for A-level English language and Literature at a leading awarding body. Another organisation, well known for its publications and courses for English and Media teachers, markets a course being delivered by someone described as ‘a senior examiner and moderator for an awarding body’, although this one is aimed at teachers only.

When I looked further into this I discovered a list of 21 examiners running courses in: English, Classical Civilisation, Psychology, Geography, History, Music, PE, RE, Biology, MFL, Drama, Maths and Literacy. These courses are being sold by 11 different organisations or businesses, ranging from individuals to high profile school training providers.

Anyone involved in professionally assessing GCSE or A-level exams for any of the five major exam boards, who also advises an audience of students – who may be sitting those exams in a few weeks or months – or teachers who are teaching them, for a fee is self-evidently involved in a serious conflict of interest.

This is especially ironic when most of these courses are sold under the umbrella term schools use for training events – Continuing Professional Development, or CPD. More unprofessional behaviour from examiners, beyond a straightforward acceptance of bribes, is hard to imagine.

It is important to be clear who these examiners are. Examiners are not full time employees working for exam boards as experts in assessment or the due diligence processes required to run a secure, high stakes assessment process. The overwhelming majority of thousands of GCSE and A level examiners are full time, part time or former subject teachers, who take on what is relatively low paid additional work, as a means to earn extra cash. AQA offers potential recruits between £500 – £1000 depending on the type and volume of paper you mark. While OCR say their examiners could earn between £240 to £1,500 for marking a full allocation. This will be for a period of around four weeks work.

They are neither subject experts, nor academic scholars. Indeed if you look at the material boards use to try and attract the many thousands of examiners they need every year, learning more about their own subject and the exam specifications is repeatedly mentioned as a positive benefit. One of AQA’s recruitment videos features a teacher who started examining after only one year of teaching and encourages other equally inexperienced teachers to do the same.

But businesses selling courses run by examiners is corrupting in a far more insidious way than the merely financial. The prevalence of teaching to the exam, with all that entails in terms of missed educational opportunities, the deskilling of the profession and the reduction of schools to nothing more significant than their exam results, has become a widespread complaint amongst teachers themselves.

When you set up the examiner, someone who is meant to be merely an objective, reliable assessor of anonymous material produced by children, as some kind of subject expert guide for professional teachers, you also set a dangerously reductive educational precedent.

Joe Nutt is an educational consultant; TES columnist; author, The Point of Poetry, An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Late Plays and A Guidebook to Paradise Lost

Education Forum members Alex Standish and Dave Perks, writing in Impact, the journal of the Chartered College of Teachers…

In 2021, most public examinations for GCSEs, A-levels and vocational qualifications have been cancelled for the second year running, meaning that teachers will decide what grade students receive. In place of exams, teachers will design their own summative assessment tasks, which may include questions and short papers set by examination boards. It is quite likely that when we emerge from lockdown and school closures, the assessment and qualification system will be different. Here, we explore the positives and negatives of the current role of exams in the school system. Below, we make a key distinction between the educational value of exams and their misuse for wider school accountability purposes. We recognise that exams have their limitations and we propose ways in which they can be improved. However, we make a case that public exams need to be retained as part of the post-lockdown assessment and qualification system because they play an important role in young people’s education and they contribute towards a more meritocratic society…

Read the full article at Impact.

In the midst of a public health crisis, we need formal exams more than ever, argues Alex Standish in the Education Forum’s regular column for Teach Secondary magazine…

Following a year of school closures and mass self-isolation for health reasons, students in Y11 and Y13 have experienced unprecedented disruption to their GCSE and A Level courses.

Does this mean that next summer’s examinations should be cancelled? If they are, how can we avoid a repeat of last summer’s ‘teacher-assessed grades versus algorithm’ farce? How should we assess students’ achievements when their education has been disrupted to such varying degrees?

See TeachWire for the full article.

The drive to make schools a force for social mobility risks distorting our collective sense of what education is meant to be for, argues Kevin Rooney in the forum’s column for Teach Secondary magazine…

For years now, educationalists and politicians of all hues have been telling us that the core goal of education is ‘social mobility’ – that is, reducing poverty and inequality, while promoting mobility up the social ladder, especially for poor working class and black pupils.

Schools minister Nick Gibb informs us that, “A welcome consensus has begun to emerge that schools must be engines of social mobility.” London schools, in particular, are held up as a great success story.

I wish I could share that rosy narrative. For me, the social mobility agenda is distorting and degrading education in a number of ways. Many schools have become boring, technocratic institutions where formulaic lessons, teaching to the test and high stakes accountability measures are now the norm. I fear this approach is sucking the life and joy out of teaching and learning…

Read the full article on TeachWire.