Why schools can benefit from the guidance of an unbiased, experienced examiner; a third party perspective on marking.

By an approved, leading member of the Marking Team at Mark My Papers.

This examiner has been marking English GCSE papers for twenty years; originally marking English Literature and English Language for WJEC (later Eduqas) and more recently marking the English Language new specification for AQA. She is an accomplished examiner with an invaluable insight into how mark schemes and assessment criteria are applied in practice.

As an experienced and well qualified teacher she has inspired and led successful English departments in two schools; improving GCSE results rapidly in both.

She has been a member of Senior Leadership Teams leading on School Improvement. She has an MA in Education (Research) and currently consults and supports English Departments; advising on curriculum design and improving outcomes and life chances for young people – often from disadvantaged backgrounds.

We are pleased to include the views of this key examiner at MMP:

 

 

19th August 2019

Teacher retention is becoming a crisis in many British schools. Recent research suggests that a quarter of teachers leave before completing their first year, with another poll indicating that 40% plan to leave the profession within the next five years. Teachers often, and reasonably, cite an unmanageable work-load causing them to leave the classroom.

In attempting to alleviate this issue, schools, in addition to offering mindfulness classes, often begin by compromising their marking policies and introducing or allowing initiatives such as whole class feedback, ‘live’ marking, peer marking, coded marking and self-assessment. In my opinion this is entirely the wrong place to start addressing the problem of workload. Detailed feedback has been proven to have the most direct impact on accelerated student progress. As an English teacher for over twenty years, often working in areas of high social deprivation, I have always expected to have to mark and assess writing thoroughly. I might not have expected the plethora of additional roles and skills I have had to accrue.

Marking for Individual Students

For me, marking has always been a way to establish a dialogue with every student; applauding their successes and indicating ways to improve without exposing or embarrassing them publicly. Admittedly, some schools’ marking policies have become farcically onerous; often demanding 3 changes of pen colour and a highlighter. The quintessential aim of this seems to be signalling to Ofsted or any other scrutineer that Quality Marking is taking place rather than being of any particular use to the individual student. Mark My Papers recognises that the quality of marking is intrinsic to the quality of learning and places the students’ progress at the centre of what they do.

In my view, individual students need and deserve individual feedback whether they are being taught at home or as a member of a class of 30. They cannot be expected to work out for themselves how to improve their work. When an individual student approaches Mark My Papers they are given precise and detailed feedback on their work which it would be impossible for even the most dedicated of classroom teachers to provide. Some students, even if they attend prestigious and high achieving schools, need this individual level of support and feedback to understand how to improve their answers. As part of the Mark My Papers team, it has been a privilege for me to mark for individual students and witness their improved confidence and attainment when they listen to and respond to precise feedback. I don’t know who they are or where in the world they live but it gives me huge professional satisfaction to see how precise, personal marking enables students to succeed.

Marking for Schools

It is vital that GCSE assessments and mock examinations are marked and moderated accurately and efficiently. This seems to be glaringly obvious. However, some schools do not have teachers with the skills or experience to achieve this effectively. A department may include more than one newly or recently qualified teacher and the odd maverick marking the same exam paper and ‘interpreting’ the same mark scheme as their more experienced colleagues. I have worked in teams and currently work with schools where in evaluating results, anecdotal allowances have to be made for the historical idiosyncrasies or inexperience of certain teachers This can mean that the results are unreliable and that essentially many hours of hard work are useless in terms of providing an accurate indication of current achievement and identification of areas for improvement.

Mark My Papers only uses experienced examiners, like myself, currently working for the main boards and familiar with the most recent papers and assessment criteria. When marking a paper for a school I am able to detach myself from its context, apply grade boundaries accurately and identify and report forensically on where teaching is clearly strong and the aspects of the course which require improvement. In school, teachers are then able to cross reference their own marking with mine to enhance their professional development and departments can adjust their curriculum plan to meet the needs of their current students. In a world where the accuracy of assessment and prediction of grades is almost as important as the results themselves, Mark My Papers gives schools the opportunity to have their mock exams assessed and graded in a way which most closely replicates the way the terminal examinations are marked and administered.

The recent move in GCSE grades to 9-1 is just part of an examination system consisting of constantly changing courses and shifting emphasis in assessment policy. Syllabuses and specifications have short life expectancies and this creates anxiety for schools, teachers, parents and students. It is not unknown for components of a qualification to be removed mid-course, with the weightings of the remaining components inevitably altered. Confusing as this is, when meeting Chief Examiners, I am aware from year to year of more nuanced shifts in emphasis which are not reflected in changes to the wording of the specifications.

The AQA mark scheme for English Language asks for ‘sophisticated and accurate use of subject terminology’ in its current specification. This wording threw teachers, used to being told to discourage ‘feature spotting’, into a flat spin panic and resulted in examiners being bombarded with answers labelling the parts of texts with grandiose and often archaic terms but no real discussion. This wasn’t what they wanted and the goal posts were quietly shifted. More credit was given to students who had clearly thought about the words used rather than shown an ability to recognise a pre-modified fronted adverbial anaphora! Working with examiners with this level of current insight into all subjects, Mark My Papers allows schools and individual candidates to benefit from not just expert knowledge of assessment criteria but the way they are applied in practice.

I have been involved with Mark My Papers almost from its inception. My perspective as a teacher, leader, examiner and subject consultant allows me to assert with confidence that it provides what seems to be a unique service supporting both individual students and schools who need to provide precise, robust and accurate assessment and data whilst protecting, nurturing and valuing their staff.

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