Should examiners be expert in the subject they mark? Duh!

I know what you’re thinking. This is obvious. Well, think again.

An examiner has to provide evidence they are teaching in their field, but they don’t have to show they are any good at it.

Take the recruitment of English examiners for example. So desperate are boards to attract markers, rather than make it an attractive proposition financially to attract the very best people, they accept teachers who have been teaching for a minimum of 3 years. They literally advertise the positions as excellent CPD – in other words, you’ll be training and making all kinds of mistakes whilst students’ grades are on the line.

Examiners do not have to have read a certain text to be able to mark an exam on it. For example, the Shakespeare component offers students a range of Shakespeare plays to write about, but at no point are teachers allocated to specific texts to match their expertise in a particular play. Consequently, there is a strong chance that an examiner may have marked a script in the last GCSE exams on Othello, or The Merchant of Venice, or Much Ado About Nothing without any real knowledge of the play.

Even if they do know the play, if a student provides a quite nuanced response, is the unread or inexperienced teacher/examiner going to be able to appreciate the insight? I doubt it. Is the student’s grade going to be compromised as a result? Of course.

As teachers, we spend a considerable amount of time trying to push our brightest students to explore the subtleties of these great texts. What a shame that some of that won’t be recognised in exams.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more discussions about education and English teaching

5 comments

  1. Well said. No disrespect to anyone but I know of an NQT with a psychology degree who marked this year’s literature paper for Eduqas. It is outrageous that they put students’ grades in jeopardy this way and I’ve often said that if it hit the papers there would be an outcry.

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  2. The exam boards also pay very little for what is, as you point out, work requiring expert knowledge. I gave up after two years as the time pressure and poor pay were just not worth anything I was gaining. I know I made mistakes when I marked (no way of flagging them if you realised ten minutes later) and it’s horrifying.

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