Appointee Management Case Studies

David Swinney — Principal Assessor


29,000 reasons for becoming an Appointee!

The Principal Assessor’s role begins and ends with the Course Assessment, in other words, the examination.  The examination must be an assessment that samples knowledge, understanding and skills that have been covered by the course.  Therefore as well as having an in-depth  understanding of assessment principles the PA must be deeply immersed in the course requirements, its content, and how it is delivered in classrooms across the country.  In these times of frequent curriculum change the PA must be aware of every development, and must be able to respond and adapt to change.

I became an SQA appointee in the same way, and for the same reason as most teacher appointees: I applied to be a marker because I wanted to learn how to improve my own marking, and bring it closer to national standards (in other words, it was a CPD opportunity).  In those days marking training was done through presentations at markers' meetings; now, of course, professional learning is more varied and flexible with much training being done online through the SQA Academy. For a PA, CPD is, perhaps, hard to quantify: yes, there is a need to undertake specific training in processes and software, but there is a greater need to be constantly aware of the kind of changes that are going on all the time in education and assessment, and in the needs and requirements of young people. Beyond this is the overriding responsibility of ensuring that the team works well together to deliver good assessments.

As Principal Assessor I lead a team of Item Writers and Checkers who devise and edit the question paper.  The PA must develop a sound knowledge of assessment,  awareness of what will work, and what will not; and must able to refine projected assessments in line with Curriculum for Excellence assessment hierarchies, while taking account of feedback from previous assessments.  The process of assessment construction is now IT-based, so I had to take on a CPD package in related software training.  This is an on-going process as the software is constantly being revised and improved.

With the new Curriculum for Excellence examinations has come e-marking, and this session (2014) has seen many people’s first involvement with on-screen marking.  For me, this has been another learning opportunity in the uses and operations of new software for on-screen marking in addition to role of IT in the management of setting exam papers.   E-marking has also meant the widening of the scope for the analysis of assessment instruments. Very detailed information on question paper performance is now available through online marking.  This brings us to another important aspect of the PA role: preparation for the Grade Boundary process.  As PA I needed to learn about the statistical side of course assessment and candidate performance, and use this in tandem with my own experience and knowledge of how the assessment has performed.

My role as PA is far wider than facts and figures: it contains an important human dimension as it is my responsibility to manage a team of markers, Team Leaders and Senior Team Leaders, in the intensive period of time that is covered by exam procedures.  This leadership aspect is another excellent professional learning opportunity for teachers preparing for leadership within schools; The PA must work effectively with a larger group of SQA professionals in order to deliver a fair award to every candidate.  And, of course, this doesn’t end with the examination: there are further procedures of Exceptional Circumstances and the Post Results Service to ensure that this happens.

One of the great things about my time as PA within SQA is that I have stayed with many of the same group of people throughout. There is something about being an SQA appointee that brings about loyalty, and many people stay with SQA throughout their teaching careers.  I have been fortunate to work with a team of people who have not only worked well together (and enjoyed each other's company!) but have, above all shared a unity of purpose: to ensure that candidates are treated fairly and inclusively, and are given a fair chance to demonstrate the skills they have learned, and the understanding they have acquired, in their study of English.

One of many things I learned from my former PA was the value of collaboration. Working with SQA is a team effort: we all learn from each other. I have learned immeasurable amounts from the Qualifications team at SQA and setters and examiners (now Team leaders, Item Writers and Item Checkers), who all draw on vast reserves of teaching and assessment experience.  I have had frequent opportunities to engage in professional dialogue with the teaching profession, and have been part of the delivery of high quality CPD for teachers (both “live” and online) through SQA's Understanding Standards and Professional Development Workshops. 

Although I have been teaching for over twenty years (and have still, of course, lots to learn), I know that my knowledge and experience would be the poorer if I had not taken the opportunity of working with SQA. I have always advised young teachers to become SQA appointees.  I do not think there is any better way to become informed about the assessments we are working with in every secondary school classroom in Scotland.