Examiner shortage poses ‘challenge’ to State exam standards

Education authorities struggling to recruit teachers to correct Junior and Leaving Cert

Exam scripts being sorted and dispatched at the State Examinations Commission in Athlone. Photograph: Alan Betson

Exam scripts being sorted and dispatched at the State Examinations Commission in Athlone. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A shortage of teachers prepared to work as examiners is posing a “significant challenge” to the maintenance of standards in correcting the State exams, according to internal records.

The State Examinations Commission, which has responsibility for organising the Junior and Leaving Cert, has been struggling in recent years to recruit teachers to correct exam papers.

An internal commission document prepared following last year’s exams noted there were “ongoing and worsening” challenges regarding the recruitment and retention of contract staff.

It said provision of cover was “extremely tight” and required concerted efforts to ensure there were sufficient staff for each subject area.

One document stated: “It was noted that examiner supply continued to be a significant challenge to ensure the maintenance of standards, impact on timelines and movement of materials.”

Shortages of examiners are understood to continue to be a major challenge.

The commission recently sent out an appeal to secondary schools stating that it has “vacancies for written examiners in all subjects” and is seeking teachers, including recently qualified teachers and retired teachers, to apply.

Pay rates

Teachers’ unions say payment rates are too low to attract teachers and have called for a 30 per cent increase in correction fees.

In a statement the commission said its recruitment campaign for marking the 2019 exams was continuing.

“The SEC appoints approximately 3,600 examiners annually to mark the Leaving and Junior Certificate written examinations. Examiners appointed by the SEC are selected on the basis of their academic qualifications, their teaching experience and their examination experience,” it said.

“All examiners must be appropriately qualified for the work and are selected on the basis of their academic qualifications, their teaching experience and their examining experience,” it continued. “The majority of examiners are experienced serving and retired teachers and the SEC prioritises teachers when making appointments.”

“Two fundamental principles underpin the marking of the State examinations; the first is the need for fair, accurate and consistent marking of every candidate’s work, and the second is candidate confidentiality,” it said.

Non-teachers

Last year the commission confirmed there were instances where non-teachers were recruited as long as they had a third-level qualification in the relevant subject.

It said this took place only if vacancies remained after “all suitable and fully qualified applicants have been offered appointment”.

Teachers’ unions say payments to examiners for marking individual exam papers are too low – ranging from about €4 to about €32, depending on the subject and length of the exam.

The commission, however, says there are many positive benefits for teachers in examining work. These include enhancing their teaching; allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of the assessment process; increasing their professional development and career prospects; and providing an opportunity to earn extra income.

In a separate development, the commission has highlighted how rote learning can end up limiting students’ performance in some exams.

The commission has released chief examiner’s reports that analyse the performance of students in Leaving Cert subjects, including politics and society, accounting and applied mathematics.

In the case of accounting, examiners noted a tendency to “reproduce rote-learned information rather than applying their knowledge to the question asked”.

Examiners in applied maths said candidates should spend more time on “understanding concepts involved ... rather than just concentrating on a particular application of the technique involved.”