Skip to main content

To mark or not to mark? That is the question.

                Image result for exam board marking

The summer term - that time of year when teachers all around the country are going into hibernation and giving up their family time, social life and general peace of mind in the pursuit of marking for exam boards, whether it be SATs, GCSE or A Level. 

But is the sacrifice worth it? 

What are the benefits and how could we make it more manageable?

Marking for an exam board is a big commitment. It should be – after all, these are our pupils’ final results.  However, it is time consuming, all consuming and often can seem like a thankless task.

I didn’t mark for an exam board until a number of years into my teaching career.  If I am honest – I really don’t enjoy marking. (Just putting it out there.)  When I had a young family it just didn’t seem like something I wanted to add to my list of jobs considering that it would impact on my home and family time.  Plus, you really need somewhere quiet to mark and toddlers and young children really don’t offer that for a guaranteed slice of time.  However, once my children were older and more self-sufficient, and I was working part time, I decided I would take the plunge and I signed up for GCSE English Literature.

A few years later and I am now a senior marker for English Literature Paper One.  I have come to the end of the self-inflicted hibernation that is the marking period and I find myself in reflection mode: thankful that it is over …  yet happy it has gone towards a summer holiday … and wondering, will I or won’t I do it all again next year?

And therein lies the problem – the internal wrangle over whether or not it is worth it.
                                                  Image result for pros and cons


Cons. 

  • Exam board marking is hard.  It takes up A LOT of time.
  • Deadlines loom for a month.  You have to be strict and set yourself daily quota targets.
  • Stress levels are high.  The pressure of getting each hidden seed within tolerance is intense.
  • Payment is perhaps less than minimum wage – especially at the beginning before you pick up a pace.
  • As you conscientiously mark away – you do so under the constant chatter about how unreliable the marking is … how little faith everybody has in the grades and how they expect to send so many scripts back for review. It's demoralising.

Pros.

  • It is undoubtedly good CPD and professional development.  
  • You know the specification really well.  You know what the exams demand of pupils.
  • You become a source of expertise for your school and department. The school benefits.
  • It forces you to revisit or develop your own subject knowledge. 
  • You see a wide range of pupil responses and it recalibrates your internal benchmark for what a good response might look like.
  • Your frame of reference widens significantly beyond your own cohort and context.
  • Reading amazing responses from fantastic children really is a delight and a privilege.
  • Those meagre payments per script do lump together into a welcome extra pot of money.  Perhaps a holiday is an option this summer?   Maybe I can buy that new phone …. or whatever it may be that you keep putting off.

Marking pro - Lagos, Summer 2016!

So what can we do to balance the books so to speak?

Pupils need their exams marking.  They deserve quality and accuracy.  They deserve a fair mark.  

Perhaps if more people marked for exam boards the overall quality of markers might rise as the pool would include more experienced, current teachers, etc.  The pressure to get all those thousands of scripts marked in a short period of time might be eased and stories of exam boards reducing the selection requirements for examiners might become less familiar.  We are all quick to blame the board and examiners when marking seems unfair on results day – but somebody has to mark the scripts and it is not an easy task, especially for an already overworked teacher at the back end of the academic year.   The official Ofqual word on how it all works can be read here.

We need to make it easier for teachers to commit.  Marking needs to be done confidentially and that does create restrictions which means most teachers scurry home as soon as the bell or afterschool commitments allow and they mark into the night.  Often schools do not allow people to mark anywhere on site (even in secure spaces) because it counts as private work. This to me is short sighted. The knowledge and experience that an examiner gains is an asset for the school and the pupils.

This year one of the examiners in my team told me that her headteacher protected the gained time of anyone who worked as an examiner and that they were allowed to do this work either at school or at home during this time.  The headteacher understood the benefits to the school when an exam class teacher increases their knowledge and experience.  They made it easy and accessible for teachers to commit.  I think schools should make a concerted effort to support teachers who are prepared to give up their time to improve the calibre of exam teaching and marking for their pupils.

Everybody wants the best for pupils so why not look for better ways to ensure they get their entitlement of quality and accuracy?

Let’s support teachers to develop their knowledge and understanding of the systems that ultimately assess our pupils.

                                     Image result for results day

Twitter.  @MissJoT

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

All aboard the magical mystery tour: keeping them on the bus.

Differentiation: a dangerous word.

This is my first blog post.  I have wanted to write one for a long time but I have struggled with a lack of confidence in terms of putting myself out there for scrutiny and also with a nagging doubt that I don't have anything new to say.  I still have these feelings.  However, lately I have been thinking a lot about expectations and challenge, both as a parent and as a teacher, and I decided now was the time to challenge myself and to say what I think - for what it's worth.
I am lucky to work in a school that is doing well in the game of educational Jenga that we partake in - pupils do well both for achievement and progress and as such we are in a position that allows us to take time to reflect and make choices without the constant barrage of pressure to move up the league tables (a situation I have experienced many times before and which can create a push for short sighted, quick fix strategies.) In the past though we have been part of this ga…

Whole School Tutor 'Read Aloud' Programme – one of my proudest accomplishments.

Reading for benefit.                                                      


‘A word
after a word
after a word
is power.’         
(Margaret Atwood)
I have been meaning to write this blog for most of the summer but kept procrastinating – spending time with family, pottering, shopping, holidaying, chilling, cleaning and many other activities kept getting in the way (as they should in the holidays!)  However, as I make the transition from my school of the previous nine years to a new school and professional adventure I felt I wanted to get it down – call it a vanity project if you will!
One of my achievements at my last (amazing) school that I am most proud of is setting up and implementing a tutor ‘read aloud’ programme and this is the tale of why.




“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” (George. R. R. Martin)

Homework needs a rethink: challenge, expectation, long-term memory and pupils who study.

It is that time of year again when teachers on edutwitter are discussing revision and generously sharing resources to help other teachers out (one of the best aspects of this amazing twitter community!) However, the yearly worry about whether pupils are prepared and what else we can get them to do for revision seems to me to suggest that we need to look further back and evaluate how we can cultivate pupils who 'study' continually, rather than pupils who 'revise' at the end.

I think this goes back to long established ideas of homework and what it should be.  Homework, in my opinion as a teacher and as a parent, has previously been the bane of my life.  As a teacher I have spent many a time setting something to make sure I meet the school requirements and to ensure there is something written in the planners, often whether the current work demands it or not and then adding the impending 'marking task' to my ever growing to do list.  As a parent I have supported, or…