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September 2017

Pay and standards fears over Ielts UK marking shake-up

A plan to speed up the marking of the Ielts writing paper by moving it online could lower standards and mean markers do more work for less money, examiners have warned.

The new on-screen marking system (OSM) was rolled out last year through an initial trial period dubbed ‘Launch and Learn’.
Promising to ‘transform the way the British Council delivers and manages Ielts’, the system requires examiners to work from home for a set number of weekdays, up to a maximum of four work days a week. This, it says, will ‘improve their capacity to mark high volumes of scripts at a faster pace’.

The new system allows for agency contracts with holiday pay. This is a shift from the old centre-based examiner role, which provided casual employment usually for full time teachers.

According to the documentation provided by the British Council, ‘it is not possible to work as an OSM examiner in addition to a full-time job’, and this would exclude many of the current examiners, who are employed full time. The rate of pay – which has effectively been halved – has also raised concerns.

OSM examiners are paid an initial rate of £1.75 per short essay task, rising to £1.84 after 12 weeks. Under the old system examiners were paid £8.50 per script, which involved marking two short essays.

One examiner who asked not to be named told the Gazette, ‘I’m really worried about the pay cut and the effect the changes could have on standards.’

Commenting on the revised UK pay rate, a spokesperson for Ielts said that ‘OSM writing examiners will work in a different way to current Ielts writing examiners.

‘They will be offered a more consistent supply of work and will not need to spend time on the administration related to handling physical scripts. OSM writing examiners can work from home, as they are not expected to travel to a specific location’, they said.

But how can examiners achieve a decent take-home pay? The expected output according to the job description is 100 tasks a day, giving a daily rate of £175, or £40,000 a year pro rata.

Assuming that examiners work an 8-hour shift with a statutory 20-minute break, this would leave them with just 4.6 minutes to mark each task. If examiners took an average of 12 minutes per essay, we calculate the payment would be below minimun wage.
Is 100 tasks a day achievable? A spokesperson for Ielts told the Gazette that data gathered during the trial period validates the level of take-home pay and working hours, and that marking targets are in line with fair rate requirements.

‘The benchmark exercise included a 12-month trial period of operation which showed that 100 tasks per day is an achievable target for OSM writing examiners’, they said.

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