With the first GCSE exams a little over 10 weeks away, exam boards are putting the final touches to their preparations for the summer. An important part of this is the recruitment of sufficient examiners to ensure that GCSEs, AS and A levels are marked on time and with the level of expertise required.

The scale of the task is considerable. Last summer, exam boards needed to fill 67,000 examiner roles to mark 14.9 million GCSE, AS and A level exam scripts and moderate 1.1 million non-exam assessments. But what do we know about the people who take on these important roles?

What do we know about examiners?

In May 2018, we carried out a survey with markers and moderators of GCSE, AS and A levels; and 18,000 examiners responded. We found examiners to be an experienced, confident and conscientious workforce. On average, they held 10 years examining experience and 19 years teaching experience. Three quarters were current teachers, with one quarter retired from the profession.

The examiners we surveyed were extremely positive about both their role and the examining process. Consistently, over 90% agreed they had sufficient support and training to mark or moderate to a high standard. A similar proportion reported high job satisfaction and pride in their work, and we found they had a real sense of duty to the students involved. Crucially, 90% of examiners told us they were committed to examining for the foreseeable future.

Although we are fortunate to have such a large pool of experienced and dedicated examiners, a ready supply of new examiners is essential for the future of our assessment system. In light of this, we carried out a second phase of our survey of examiners in autumn 2018. Part of this survey focused on new examiners and how they found their first experience of examining.

How do new examiners find their first time examining?

10% of the 5,500 respondents to this survey told us that summer 2018 had been their first time examining GCSEs, AS or A levels. Although new to examining, they were nonetheless highly experienced teachers. On average, new examiners reported having 12 years of teaching experience, with 89% being current teachers.

It was encouraging to see just how positive new examiners were about their first experience of the role. Their satisfaction and confidence levels with examining were almost as high as those of their experienced counterparts. Over 90% of new markers and moderators believed the quality of their work was sufficiently high.

We know that most people start examining to support and develop their teaching. Certainly, new examiners were most likely to tell us how rewarding they had found examining when reflecting on their first summer. Most felt that examining had given them real insight into the specification they teach; an insight which would only enhance their teaching. These are the sorts of things they told us:

"It was the most valuable CPD I’ve done throughout my whole 8 year teaching career so far." (Marker, GCSE Science)

"I enjoyed seeing work from students other than my own and seeing how other centres have approached the paper. I gained an insight into what pupils need to do to achieve the higher marks in the paper." (Marker, GCSE Performing Arts)

New examiners also praised the quality of the support and training they received from their exam board. Most rated this very highly. Over 90% of new examiners felt well supported through the examining process.

"My supervisor was very supportive and always available at short notice. She was encouraging at all times." (Marker, GCSE English)

Although many examiners find their role rewarding, we know examining is not without its challenges. Some new examiners discussed the initial difficulties they  had managing the workload and deadlines involved in marking scripts, particularly where they fit this around a full-time ‘day job’.  It is therefore important that schools and colleges recognise the additional workload which some of their teachers, as new examiners, may have, and provide support where appropriate.

Despite the hard work involved, it was encouraging to see just how well new examiners had taken to their role. Not only had it been a positive and worthwhile experience overall, but many felt they had genuinely enjoyed the process. What’s more, after their first summer, 86% of new examiners felt committed to examining for the foreseeable future.

This kind of commitment is crucial to ensure the good health of our assessment system, both now and in the future. We thank all examiners and moderators for the important work they do and wish them the best for this summer.

Charlotte Lockyer, Research Fellow, Ofqual

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