Teachers offered 25 per cent pay rise to mark exam papers

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Teachers are being offered a 25 per cent pay rise to mark exams this summer in an attempt to stave off a chronic shortage of examiners.

Teachers are being offered a 25 per cent pay rise to mark exams this summer in an attempt to stave off a chronic shortage of examiners.

Mike Creswell, chief executive of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), one of the country's three biggest exam boards, described the shortfall as "the biggest risk that the system is running".

There are still difficulties in recruiting teachers to mark scripts in subject areas such as English and psychology, the latter of which has seen an upsurge in the numberof people wanting to study it at GCSE and A-level.

Mr Creswell, in an interview with The Independent, was speaking as this summer's exam begins in earnest. The first written GCSE exams take place in schools and colleges today with A-levels following next week.

The AQA alone will mark 13 million scripts this summer - 10 million GCSE papers and 3 million A and AS-level scripts.

"The biggest risk that the system is running is shortages of examiners in some key subjects," said Mr Creswell.

"It is not across the board at all but it remains a problem. There is a lot of work going to overcome it. It hasn't actually stopped candidates getting their results on time over the last few years."

He added: "Last summer our pay rates would have averaged about £12 an hour. The increases aren't across the board but the rates have gone up by quite a chunk to about £15 an hour."

The AQA is introducing more online marking this year to try to ease the problems and to ensure scripts are marked earlier than in previous years. A total of 500,000 scripts will be marked online this summer and, if the pilot scheme is successful, it will increase to five million by 2004.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - the Government's exams watchdog - believes the whole system could move to online marking within a few years. This would allow results to be announced earlier and make it easier to move to a system whereby students apply for university places after they receive their A-level results rather than be offered provisional places on expected grades, as happens at present.

Mr Creswell said he doubted whether this would be of benefit in all exams - particularly in English essay questions where there are no right or wrong answers and markers want to take time to read and assess the scripts.

In a wide-ranging interview, he also attacked the idea of A-star grades at A-level to make it easier for universities to select the brightest candidates. More than one in five candidates currently get A-grade passes. The idea has been floated by the inquiry into exam reforms, being carried out by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector.

"I think the experience of the A-star at GCSE shows it seriously devalued the rest of the grade scale," Mr Creswell said.