Exams: I Was an Edexcel Marker
Wall, Tom, New Statesman (1996)
There were about 300 of us in the rented office space on Fleet Street in London: temporary employees staring at computers, while supervisors patrolled up and down berating anyone caught chattering. We worked ten hours a day, with few breaks, and if we fell behind the pace, a little traffic-light icon on the screen would flash orange or red, telling us to get on with it.
This is how GCSE papers are marked these days for the private exam board Edexcel, an affiliate of the Pearson media conglomerate. Once, it may have been a summer holiday task for experienced schoolteachers, no doubt equipped with fountain pens and reference books, but now, with three million papers to be processed, it is online, global (well, some papers are marked in Australia) and frighteningly fast.
To be frank, I was surprised to get the job, because I had never done it before and had no especially relevant qualifications, but Edexcel told me my philosophy degree was sufficient and gave me four hours' training at a London hotel. Many of the other trainees I spoke to were graduates, fresh from temping agencies, and similarly lacking in experience.
This is something that concerns some educationalists. "A few years ago, you would have needed two years' teaching experience--certainly, when I first left university there was no way I would have been allowed to mark exam papers," says Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter. "It is worrying, because you need to be immersed in teaching the subject to understand all the educational, cultural and psychological aspects. …