Simon Jenkins recent piece in Thursday’s Guardian is worth reading. Jenkins, a right-wing commentator, also happens to be one of the few genuine journalists left on that particular paper. In this rather bizarre piece, he opines that the cancellation of this year’s GCSE`s and A level exams provides a template for future educational policy.
This is interesting as the ramifications of the cancelled exam have yet to unravel and I look forward to reading Jenkins analysis of the situation in August given that hyperinflation of GCSE`s and A levels is likely.
Let us leave alone the strategies in place to award students with GCSE and A levels this forthcoming August. Suffice to say, results day, this August, will be devoid of the usual media hysteria. Filming students opening their exam results, losses something of the tension when the grade has been giving for an exam not taken.
I may be showing my age here but it`s a bit like climbing the steps of the old Wembley Stadium to receive the FA Cup when the game has not been played, before an empty stadium. A sterile experience and this year’s result day may be `marked` less by hysteria and rather more by student and parental anger.
How the exam boards are going to award qualifications this year is an issue for a separate article. Sufficient to say, the current Secretary of State for Education, Mr Williamson, is looking less and less competent. Even when it comes to dealing with this manufactured crisis.
Given that comparisons with the Second World War are all the rage, Williamson is more Lord Halifax than Winston Churchill and I mean no disrespect to Mr Edward Wood here. Halifax would be a Prince among men in the midst of this Parliamentary shower, who sold democratic oversight of the executive for a 10K bonus and 30K office expenses to work at home, not quite 30 pieces of silver but hopefully you see my point.
The awarding bodies for exams in the UK are an alphabet soup of multi-million-pound companies. Three of these – AQA, OCR and Edexcel (Pearson) – have been making some key decisions recently. The very lifeblood of these organisations is a massive army of Examiners. All are employed on zero-hours contracts, or are they?
Educators become examiners for a multitude of reasons. It is an important feature of their staff development. Examiners therefore can be in full-time work as teachers so the loss of any examining work is financially, little more than an inconvenience.
However, anyone reading comments by examiners on various educational chat forums will quickly realize that a great many people are almost completely reliant on the income to live, feed themselves and their children and pay mortgages over the summer.
These examiners work on zero-hours contracts as tutors or educators and subsidise this work with the payment generated by marking over the summer. These Examiners are often living on less than the bonus payment awarded to British Parliamentarians which was doled out to them in order to shut government down during the bogus crisis.
Examiners are not given any financial assistance to work from home, whereas UK MP`s – along with their bonus – were granted a 30K payment to make working at home easier. These paragons of democratic virtue are hardly going to care about highly qualified people surviving on a pittance.
So on the day that Simon Jenkins wrote his glib piece in the Guardian a real storm in the world of education was brewing. Mr Jenkins confined to his Ivory Tower would not of course have been aware of this.
On May 17 the education press reported that Pearson (Edexcel) would refuse to furlough there massive army of examiners. This was a decision that they came to after many months of consideration, they have been writing to Examiners expressing concerns about their health since the Covid
opportunity crisis emerged.
The announcement that they were going to refuse to furlough staff came after the scheme had been extended and now covers just fewer than 8 million people. This was bad news for those working for Pearson but the article which reads like a propaganda puff piece for Pearson also carried some good news.
The company had decided that some of their senior Examiners (Principle Examiners and Assistant Examiners), while not furloughed, would instead receive a payment which related to their employment last summer from May to August. It was generous and showed a good deal of humanity from Pearson they would pay these non-furloughed staff 80% of last year’s earnings.
A precedent was thus set. It looked like those contracted by Pearson and who had carried out previous work for the company appeared to be in a reasonable position. Surely, it would go against the law of natural justice for an employer to differentiate between workers and not extend an equitable decision to its entire staff? What is more very few PE’s or APE actually do any marking, they write the paper and then with the assistance of a Team Leader run a cohort of staff to mark the scripts.
The real work is done completely and utterly by individual markers/workers employed at home reading hundreds of exam scripts online.
The work is monitored to an incredible degree by software designed to highlight any inconsistencies in the assessment process. It is slave labour and while it is vital work, it is completely and utterly unappreciated by both the public and it seems also by the employers themselves.
It looked like out of the goodness of Pearson`s heart a humanitarian and decent decision had been made. However, it is more probable that Pearson found themselves in a legal jam. While those employed as Examiners are on zero-hour contracts the legal position in terms of employment law is contentious and possibly actionable. Hence why Pearson dithered and delayed in making an announcement.
Its army of examiners had been contacted continually and informed last week that a decision was imminent and Examiners would be informed by 21 May. Pearson employs Examiners on a rolling contractual basis. The company holds the `employees` or `workers` P45 throughout so, therefore, each examiner remains on the payroll.
Furthermore, the significant degree of control that exists between Pearson and the Examiner might in an employment law context constitute the Examiner as something other than a `worker` on a zero-hour contract. Those, therefore, working for Pearson may actually have employment rights, which Pearson have violated.
This is because yesterday the company announced that it would breach its own precedent. They reinstated their decision not to furlough staff, but instead of extending the 80% payment promise it had made to some Examiners, would for the majority of staff only pay 20% of earnings generated last year between May to August.
Yesterday was a very busy day for the nation’s examination boards.
Just a few hours prior to the announcement by Pearson, AQA another multi-million-pound company informed their staff that they would not furlough staff. AQA had, it appears, kept its entire work base in the dark since the start of the Covid opportunity, sorry, crisis began.
AQA, unlike Pearson, would not even be making a derisory payment to some of its staff. AQA does not retain the P45`s of Examiners and hands them back every November (a factor that will no doubt influence future policy at Pearson). The AQA decision is clearly disgusting but in a strange way at least it is uniform, consistent in as much that it is unfair to all.
Paying a few people 80% of their wages whilst paying the majority of people who actually carry out the work only 20% is beyond disgusting.
Meanwhile OCR, the other key examination board and again a multi-million-pound company, has just announced that it has decided to furlough all its Examiners.
One wonders what our MP`s and Parliamentary Education Select Committee might say about all of this. Tragically, many examiners have written to their MPs and have indeed encouraged others to do the same. The multi-million-pound companies that run the examination business in the UK (and internationally in many respects) claim that they will in no way profit by the Covid “crisis”.
Like the crisis itself, that is a bright shining lie, and it is one that needs to be understood by everyone opening their predetermined letter containing bogus exams results this year. Because those results are also a lie.