Friday, 27 July 2012

Tales from the dark side.

For the past few years, as well as working hard at the coal-face of teaching, I have also worked for an exam board. This was mainly due to receiving negligible CPD in my first few years of teaching, so took matters into my own hands and applied to an exam board to mark their A-Level Media Studies papers. At the time, I was leading the Media Studies A-Level, so it was professionally a wise move. I began marking their A2 'Critical Research Study' paper, which took the form of a dissertation but on a smaller scale.  I had a break whilst I moved schools (out of a frying pan into a blazing furnace of hell, but I digress) and changed moderating course work. 

The ellipses is deliberate, for I knew not what I had let myself in for.  Exam marking is hard, it's relentless, punishing and the deadlines are, well, mental, but as I found out later, compared to moderating course work, exam marking is a mere 'Ofsted Inspection monitoring visit' compared to moderating's, 'Full blown Ofsted inspection' stress levels. 

I'll briefly give context for the type of course work I was moderating. Centres are given a range of briefs to choose from in the specification, such as a music video or a short film as the main task, plus two smaller ancillary tasks such as a digi-pak and poster.  This should be preceded by detailed research and planning and at the end an evaluation that answers four compulsory questions. The course work should all be produced and published electronically, preferably on a blog - the specification is very specific about this...not that you'd know it from the many, incorrect, variables I saw. 

You attend the standardisation meeting and you then have six weeks to moderate your allocation.  Six weeks you say? Six weeks? That's got to be better than having just three weeks to mark your exam scripts allocation, brilliant.  

Then you begin opening your grey parcels of doom and reality kicks you in the shin as you notice the poor admin (teachers comments copied and pasted, or one sentence comments) or elements of the course work executed so poorly by the candidates, you become livid, angry for them that they were let down so badly by their school.  In short, I spent six weeks being tired, exhausted, hungry and often angry.  I moderated for two years in a row and my department, having seen me turn into a shadow of myself over the six weeks, made me promise not to do it again, ever.  Hell would need to freeze over and penguins be figure skating upon it before I did it again.  

Now, I could write a list of all the things I learned during my two years working with the grey parcels of doom moderating, however, as therapy at the end of the last session in 2011, I wrote an 'I wish I could have sent this moderator's report.'  Be prepared, it is acerbic to say the least.

The politically incorrect version NOT sent to any Centre, but oh how I wish I could have done....

The Centre is thanked for the submission of the coursework although, to be frank, it was a miracle it arrived judging from the inept way in which it was packaged, for, within my sample I discovered the sample that was meant for the AS moderator.   All coursework had been submitted on paper, whereas the Specification clearly states that all coursework MUST be submitted electronically, which begs the question, did you bother to read the Specification before you started teaching it?  The damning Moderator’s report sent last examination period suggests not. Several emails and a ‘jobs-worth’ examinations officer later, the electronic material turned up, which was discovered in, you guessed it, the AS moderator’s sample. This clearly made the Examination Officer’s assertion that she had ‘carefully packaged up the sample’ somewhat laughable.

The candidates, between the four of them, undertook a 5 minute film in its entirety together with a poster and a magazine article as ancillaries.
It was felt that the marks allocated for Research and Planning were over generous. The candidates’ produced a tedious PowerPoint slide, consisting of dense text that used tiny fonts mainly consisting of work copied from Wikipedia.  It was most interesting that the candidates themselves saw fit to use words and phrases from the mark scheme in said tedious PowerPoint slide show, for example ‘Excellent research into similar products’ without having a clear idea of what the term ‘excellent’ really meant in this context.

For construction, the 5 minute film in it’s entirety, scored in the lower mark bands due to the overuse of a monotonous voice over, which gives the impression that Harrison Ford’s V/O in Blade Runner contains the enthusiasm of Graham Norton. This, combined with ill considered Mise-en-Scene, and the worst wig seen to date in a piece of video coursework, made me greatly relieved when the 5 minutes was up. It begs the question; does your teacher have any interest in the Media at all? The ancillary tasks were massively over-marked due to barely resembling the target product. 

Evaluations were also generously marked due to once again having to sit through poorly executed PowerPoint slides.  All four compulsory questions had been answered, but judging by the content, not necessarily understood.
The Centre is strongly advised to encourage the teacher concerned to sit down and actually read the Specification, perhaps ‘Google’ something about technical codes for moving image even.  More importantly the snooty and unhelpful Examinations Officer should be shown the door and receive her P45 forthwith. 

The Centre is encouraged to continue to take advantage of the resources offered by OCR so the Centre has a clear grasp of what ‘good practice’ actually is. The site at will provide links to resources and examples of work from all units and the new community site at holds an archived forum for information and discussion.

Here endeth the rant.

Never underestimate the value of time spent reading the Specification thoroughly; the value of good administration; clear, detailed summative comments that use words from the mark scheme very explicitly; clear evidence of internal moderation; punctual delivery of your sample to your moderator; easily accessible (for the online coursework) and well packaged samples, and an efficient and competent exams officer.  If all these things have nice big  'ticks' against them, your moderator is already in a good mood. Your Centre can be quickly and efficiently moderated and your marks are less likely to be altered.  

I marked exam papers this year, three weeks, 269 scripts which, for me,  felt like a joyful ride on a carousel in comparison.

Moderating, not for the faint hearted. 

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