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In yet another teacher workload survey, this time by the Guardian Teacher Network, 82% of survey respondents reported that their workload had become unmanageable and almost all said their workload had greatly increased over the last five years.
When they aren’t drowning in paperwork, sifting through mountains of data, trying to keep abreast of the latest exam reforms, or jumping through hoops for Ofsted, teachers still have to find time to do some teaching.
It is hardly surprising that something has to give. Personal development is often one of the first casualties – certainly if it involves time out of the school day. It doesn’t help that the infrastructure for teacher CPD is looking increasingly fractured and piecemeal. Government proposals for a new College of Teaching seek to address this, but many teachers have greeted the proposals with resigned indifference, which is perhaps understandable from a profession whose members spend so much time with their noses pressed firmly to the grindstone.
Another likely impact of workload pressure of particular concern to me is a reduction in the numbers of teachers signing up to become examiners and assessors. The delivery of timely, accurate results depends on a vast army of quality markers drawn almost exclusively from the teaching community. Over 90% of OCR's examiners are teachers or ex teachers and so without teachers, the whole exam system would grind to a halt.
The challenge of recruiting examiners, especially for certain subjects, is not new but so far, there have always been enough keen and willing examiners to get the job done. Given increasing demands on teacher time, it begs the question why so many are still coming forward and, crucially, what needs to be done to make sure they continue to do so.
OCR recently commissioned its own survey to look at the benefits and barriers associated with becoming an examiner. We don’t have all the answers yet but it is interesting to speculate: why do so many teachers still make time to get involved with examining? And how much longer can we rely on them to make the effort?
One thing is clear, not many examiners do it for the money alone – examining will never be a route to great personal wealth. But most teachers do regard being an examiner as good CPD. OCR, for example, provides training on principles of assessment, developed by Cambridge Assessment, which is a great way of reinforcing teacher expertise in assessment of all types. Skills in assessment are vital in the classroom, as Ofsted has highlighted, yet the formal training that teachers receive in external assessment is limited. Being an examiner is also a very good way of developing knowledge of a particular subject specification and the exams and mark schemes that come with it, something that can enhance teaching and therefore improve results. That’s great CPD but also great news for a school and its leaders wrestling to keep ahead in the performance tables. With a new generation of teachers experiencing linear exams for the first time, assessment skills and knowledge are at a premium.
CPD is also about being on top of the latest developments in a particular profession. Being an examiner means getting important previews about coming changes but also the opportunity to explore topics like the new grading scale for the ‘9-1’ GCSEs or how ‘comparable outcomes’ will work.
At OCR, we have worked very hard to support and nurture an examiner community by holding face-to-face conferences (not everything can be done online), and digital media initiatives, including Yammer conversations. This sort of networking is vital to the personal development and progression of all professionals. There are many opportunities for examiners to get more closely involved in OCR’s work in developing, setting and supporting our qualifications. Regulators and governments may play key roles in setting the core content and design of qualifications but we rely on our work with the teaching community to enrich and innovate.
There is always more that OCR could do to ensure that examiners are supported and developed. It is also our job, working with the other exam boards, to persuade others of the importance of examining. Leadership teams and the government need to see that this role is vital and should be higher on the priority list. But it’s not just vital for summer exams but as a piece of teachers’ professional development and understanding.
So, to finish, here’s my thought for school leaders: If every school takes the number of exam entries they make and divides it by 300 – each examiner marks about 300 scripts on average – that will tell them broadly how many examiners they use. If they provide fewer examiners they are takers from the system, if they provide more they are givers!