A breakdown of...becoming an examiner
"Errr....what is this stack of parcels in the bedroom?" -"Surprise!!"
So, for the handful of people who actually read this blog and the two people who actually care if I post or not (shout out to my Mum and Dad...), I apologise for going dark for the past three weeks. "Where have you been?" you all exclaim - well, I have been buried under a mountain of coursework and Parcelforce delivery slips. Moderation season is upon us and it has been a full-on monsoon of candidate numbers, poor spelling and even poorer marking...
So, why make a post on this? Well, as we approach the end of the academic year, I thought it would be useful to offer an insight into how early-career teachers can look beyond their classrooms for ways to improve their CVs. A while back, I wrote a post all about the best CPD opportunities I have been involved with and examining was up there at number five (granted, it was five out of five, but it was an exclusive list to begin with...) I became an examiner at the end of my second year of teaching as a way to make a bit of extra cash, but the benefits have extended far beyond my wallet. For GCSE and A Level teachers, having a knowledge of the exam paper is essential and it could mean the difference between your students getting an A or an A* (or an A or a D, in some cases that I have seen...) No matter how much of the specification you read and however detailed the advice from the exam board may be, it simply does not match up to the level of understanding you gain from being an examiner. Spending a weekend in sunny Manchester in 2017 helped me to develop a knowledge of the History NEA (coursework) that could rival any other teacher.
So, what are the benefits and drawbacks of becoming an examiner or moderator?
Money - OK, let's get this one out of the way. Thinking practically, the best thing about the whole process is the end. After the taxman takes his cut, you can expect to receive between £600 and £1,000 depending on the exam board and Key Stage. This can go into savings if you're feeling particularly prudent, or it will help pay for a summer holiday to help occupy you in those six weeks off. Often, the only thing that keeps you going as you work through a stack of papers is by telling yourself: "This is another £6...this is another £6....this is another £6..."
Knowledge of the exam paper - As I mentioned earlier, another benefit of becoming an examiner is being able to communicate the demands of the exam confidently and accurately. It gives you guru-like status in the department, as you become the go-to person for exam technique and you will no doubt see the benefits of your hard work on results day in August. This might even be the first time that you have been exposed to work from pupils in other schools. We have all seen the exemplars of 'best practice' supplied by the exam boards or the textbook (God help us...), but seeing a couple of hundred answers from a range of students is far more valuable. You pick up facts and figures that you could pass on to your own students, you can see various essay structures or methods of working that you simply would not have considered, and you get that all-important ego boost from knowing that your teaching is not completely awful (#littlewins).
CPD - As a new teacher, it is important to stand out from the crowd. You probably joined your school as one of a handful of new members of staff and over the next few years, there will no doubt be numerous opportunities for promotion or transition to another school. Second in Department...Head of Year...even Head of Department in some schools (you can thank the current teacher recruitment crisis for the constant stream of job opportunities!) So, bulking up your CV with out-of-school is experience is another way to add more strings to your bow. Becoming an examiner does not only demonstrate a deeper knowledge of the subject and the exam itself, but also your commitment to education and the profession in general. You essentially look like a bit of a superhuman if you are taking on additional marking on top of the summer-term demands of reporting and internal exams.
Time - The time demands of moderating and examining is definitely the biggest downside of the job. You can pretty much kiss evenings and weekends goodbye, so go ahead and leave out a few platefuls of food for your cat/dog/child/husband and tell them that you will see them again in July. The expected turnaround for getting scripts marked is pretty swift (around 4-6 weeks depending on the qualification) and this is obviously coming at a busy time in the school year. Saying this, if you have a few Upper Sixth of Year 11 classes who end up going on study leave fairly early, you may in fact find that the extra workload is not so bad. I have definitely found that the demands of being a moderator has changed each year depending on my timetable. The type of work I was doing has also had an impact; I much prefer to moderate coursework rather than examine papers directly - so have a good think about which qualification/paper you want to commit to.
Admin - I can't speak for all examiners/moderators, as I gather that a lot of it is now carried out on a computer (which in itself is a bit of a drawback), but one of the most frustrating aspects of the job is the administration that goes alongside it. For the first few weeks after the coursework deadline, I have parcels arriving in dribs and drabs. Most of these need signing for, so I spend most evenings travelling to various depots and collection centres in a ten-mile radius to collect the work. Once that has been done, I then need to fill out various feedback forms, expense claims and checklists before I can move on to the next set of work. The whole thing is exhausting and it is a good job that the exam board usually pay you a set amount (around £100-£200) just for this alone.
So, is it worth it? Well, I can't speak for everyone, but I am still working for the exam board four years in, so it can't be that bad... I have spoken a lot about issues of workload in the past, so the one thing to consider before you even think about applying is whether you can mentally (and emotionally) cope with the extra work. At the end of the day, it is not for everyone, but for many people the benefits explained about far outweigh the drawbacks (although, if I see another Parcelforce delivery slip in the next six months then I will not be held accountable for my actions...)
Links to guidance and information for prospective examiners, including how to apply, can be found below: