‘How to retain examiners? Show them the money’

It’s the mid-point of the academic year; you’re over the worst hump of the hardest half-term. It’s time to relax – just one email to go. And it’s from the exam board with the largest market share exhorting you to become an examiner. Its YouTube videos are full of altruistic reasons for signing up. This is by no means the first you’ve heard of it. From September onwards, teachers are bombarded by emails, letters and even pleas to examine at the end of training seminars. Tes reports.

It’s a hard slog year on year for exam boards to recruit the huge numbers needed to keep the high-stakes accountability framework ticking. Marketers have to find ingenious conscience-grabbing ways to recruit from a shrinking pool of active teachers. But is a marketing spin the answer?

Shortage of examiners

Actually, boards need to look at examiner satisfaction levels each year and take advice from feedback. After all, the more examiners retained, the fewer to recruit. Unfortunately, most boards don’t survey examiners. So, to fill the void, here are the top 10 ways in which boards can reduce marketing costs, retain examining teams and improve the overall quality of marking:

It’s all about the money

Examining is arduous work and a highly skilled job with very high stakes attached. So for effort expended, level of skill required and long-term significance of the end product, surely examiners should be highly paid. Interestingly, no board ever quotes its pay per script in any form of publicity. The nearest it gets is to hint at purchasing power – the cost of the annual holiday for the family. When I first started examining, I was able to afford a three-piece suite – not any more, thanks to inflation. 

The script rate should reflect the complexity of the task and should be paid as a whole 

The “bonus system” – whereby a lower script rate than that of a board’s competitors is set as the standard rate and then topped up with a so-called “bonus”, which is paid if markers meet the deadlines – is one to be avoided. The overall rate if all scripts are marked on time is only equivalent to a sum within that offered by competitors as standard. Life does happen to examiners, and there are all kinds of reasons that lead them to drop out of the process before finishing their allocation. Under-paying them will ensure they are not keen to work for that board again.

The quality of CPD

The current recruitment strategy favours playing up the value of the training on offer, partly to compensate for the poor rate of remuneration. Some training can be absolutely excellent. The best caters for all levels of expertise in examiners. Boards must ensure that the quality of standardisation material is high and scripts well-chosen to cover as many learning points as possible. Having to cope with these at the earliest stages gives examiners confidence and provides a solid foundation for the later stages of the marking process. 

The team leader 

Examiners are human, they get tired and sometimes disheartened. These are inevitable aspects of the human condition. In the summer term at the end of a gruelling period of revision sessions, production of last-minute study materials and answering of anxious questions from students, teacher-examiners are tired. So a helpful team leader who can signpost them to resources and assistance for IT aspects of their jobs will be much appreciated. The best supervisors understand how their examiners think and work. The quality and qualities of team leaders are much more significant factors in retention than boards may realise.

Read more top tips exam boards should consider ‘How to retain examiners? Show them the money’

Are you or were you an examiner? Do you think these tips help you? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin 

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