In 1993, I began working for a leading examination board, starting on the Tragedy paper of A level English Literature, because I wanted to sharpen my teaching and keep up my skill level, having taught A level English Literature for three years at Mid-Cheshire College, but moving to a school where I knew it might be years before I got any A level teaching. I also marked GCSE English Literature for two years alongside the A level. When the specifications changed, I worked on the Shakespeare Open Book paper, then in 2000, moved over to English Language and Literature because I was starting to teach that new syllabus and wanted to do it as well as possible. I learned such a lot about linguistics and how to apply it to literature. I worked on two coursework units and one examination unit, and was blessed with having wonderful colleagues who made the work a pleasure, and a superb administrator who was incredibly helpful. I was promoted to senior moderator on both coursework units, and I really enjoyed helping my teams and working even more closely with colleagues I admired. I also did two years on Creative Writing A level. Until fairly recently, there were January submissions and remoderations to do as well, and I even got to lead some staff training sessions in schools.
Now there are new specifications, and everything is changing. I recognise things are of their time. But the exam work made me feel valued and taught me so much about my academic disciplines, stretching me and sharpening my teaching. It gave me confidence when marking my own students’ work and standardising our department’s coursework in both the schools I taught in. It got me through some dark days in school, because my exam colleagues always valued my commitment and consistency.
I would strongly recommend to teachers to take up the challenge to try exam board work. You can earn extra money while gaining wider experience and the training given by all the boards in understanding how to award marks positively and apply judgements is absolutely invaluable. It will widen your reading and make you a better teacher. It will also allow you to see that examiners don’t want rote answers; they want to see students thinking for themselves and writing relevantly, making discoveries as they apply their knowledge and understanding to the task they have been set.
This year will be the first since 1993 when I will no longer spend May and June in my study, working every day to meet deadlines. I will miss the focus of our meetings and the professional discussions, I will miss the sense of purpose and the dialogue with teams. Of course I will miss the money. Most of all, I will miss working with some of the brightest, most professional people I have ever met. We worked hard and cared passionately about getting things right and being fair to students.
I have made some lifelong friends in the process but this year I am looking forward to being able to work in the garden at the best time of year, sneak in a few extra holidays and generally reclaim those two crucial months for myself. I left full time teaching in 2009, this feels like another step away from that role and makes more room for poetry and socialising with friends and family. So long, exam board, it’s been good to know you.