ne of the country's largest exam boards is advertising for student teachers to help mark GCSEs and A-levels next summer.
The move, by the Edexcel exam boards, is being criticised by teachers' leaders who say only trained teachers should do the job. Edexcel's advert specifically targets PGCE students, saying: "You could be well placed to join our growing number of examiners."
The recruitment of trainees came under fire from both heads and teachers' leaders last night. It also emerges just a week after a former senior adviser at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority – the curriculum watchdog – said the exam system was "diseased, almost corrupt".
Edexcel insisted that the students would only do low-level marking tasks such as checking right or wrong answers. However, Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said exam papers should be marked by qualified teachers. "A qualified teacher should mark the whole paper," she said. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: "It used to be the case anyone wanting to become an examiner had to have three years' teaching experience and a reference from the head teacher.
"The problem now," he added, "is that the exam system has grown so much they need coach loads of examiners. I think that's just a manifestation of our exam system growing out of control." However, he said: "It depends on what they're being asked to do. Marking things that are absolutely right or wrong and operating a mark scheme – I'm sure PGCE students could do that."
A senior examiner said of the advert: "That means your or my children could have their papers marked by somebody who has never taught." He added, "This will result in examination papers which are highly predictable and, therefore, increase the proportion of students gaining top grades."
Last week, Mick Waters, former head of curriculum at the QCDA, wrote that he believed the current exam system was "diseased, almost corrupt". In a book co-authored by John Bangs, of London University's Institute of Education, he said senior exam board officials had tried to persuade head teachers their exams were easier than their rivals.
A spokeswoman for Edexcel said: "Edexcel's expert markers are qualified teachers or former teachers.
"We do recruit graduates while they are completing their PGCE, ready to mark once they are qualified. Non-teachers are only used for tasks where no teaching experience is necessary."
The Oxford, Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts (OCR) exam board said it was not advertising for PGCE students. However, it would be open to them to apply. They would normally be restricted to marking "right or wrong" answers. The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance said it was not advertising to recruit PGCE students "and had no plans to do so".