60 second interview: Lorraine Wilson

What is your role in assessment and how long have you been in this role?

I have been a Chief Examiner for Functional Skills English since they began. Before that I was a Chief Examiner and Principal Moderator for Key Skills Communication, a Principal Moderator for Essential Skills Wales (Communication), and a Scrutineer for a range of English subjects.  In fact I’ve just worked out that I’ve had over 30 years’ experience of external assessment since I first started as an English GCSE examiner back in 1990.

What are the rewards and challenges of your job?

Financial rewards are few and far between. In fact I’d say that fees for senior roles in most Awarding Bodies (or Examining Boards as they used to be called) have been slowly eroded over the last 10 years so no-one stays in it for the money! However, the other rewards are huge. The knowledge that you’ve helped learners get the right grades, accurately reflecting their skills and knowledge is very satisfying. You also get the chance to meet lots and lots of wonderful people, examiners new and old (literally and metaphorically!), centre staff and of course, when moderating, the candidates. At the beginning of a new qualification there’s always a lot of doubt and concern – like there is with any sort of change. It’s really good to be able to work with people to show them the benefits and to help them best prepare themselves to prepare their learners. A few weeks ago we were having some electrical work done on the house. One of the electricians was a young girl in the second year of her apprenticeship. She asked me what I did and when I mentioned Functional Skills it was amazing to hear how positive she was about Functional Skills within her apprenticeship. That’s one of the unexpected rewards!

As for challenges – well plenty. Almost constant change for one in the world of Vocational Education – Core Skills, Key Skills, Functional Skills to name but a few. It’s always challenging when you get a results enquiry for a young person who has failed and you have no choice but to agree with the examiner’s decision. While it is good that you can see accurate marking which reflects the hours of training and standardisation undertaken, it’s disheartening to have to confirm the young person’s lack of success. This is particularly concerning when you see how failure in Functional Skills English might not only affect their apprenticeship, but also their ability to progress in their chosen career and deal with all the communication demands imposed by the modern world. In a way it’s frustrating not to be able to do anything about it – unlike their teachers or tutors or work-based assessors. These people are in the lucky position of being able to use formative assessment to determine what teaching and learning is needed and to be able to support the young person to make improvements and take their learning forward.

What would you change about the assessment and qualifications system if you could?

In one word – stability! Stop changing assessments and instead focus on developing young people’s skills. Making qualifications more difficult won’t help - it just means more people fail. Instead the focus should be on teaching and learning – building people’s skills. To do this, more money needs to be fed into vocational education to enable employers, work based training providers and colleges to provide the level of teaching and support needed by these young people. Many are extremely bright but have been failed by a completely academic school system which means they ‘switch-off’ until they get into the world of work and then have to constantly fight to catch up. Parity of esteem for academic and vocational qualifications is what I would really want.

Why are you a member/ trustee of the CIEA?

I became a Fellow of the CIEA because I believed in the aims and objectives of the Institute and I felt being a Fellow reflected the assessment experience I had developed over many years. To me it seemed a two-way thing – I supported the CIEA and they supported me. Often, working as an assessor is a very solitary thing and it is good to be able to find out what is happening in the assessment world. I think the training programmes which the CIEA has developed can help younger assessors develop more quickly and avoid some of the pitfalls I might have fallen into.

When the idea of being a Trustee was first mentioned to me, I was very uncertain. However, I had felt for a while that the CIEA did focus more on academic than vocational assessment and I thought my experience across both might help to redress this bias. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded but I’ve certainly tried.

What does your role as an elected Trustee of the CIEA involve?

The most obvious is attendance at the three or four Trustee meetings held every year, which during the pandemic have been held via Zoom but which I hope will soon return to face-to-face meetings. Being a Trustee is actually quite a responsibility. When I was first elected, I had to go through a lot of information from the Charity Commission which outlined exactly what your roles and responsibilities are as a Trustee, which was quite frightening. I always try to prepare thoroughly for Trustee meetings by reading though all the papers and going through the figures so if I’m agreeing with something, or disagreeing, I know exactly what it is and all the implications.

I’ve also been involved in putting together responses on behalf of the CIEA. These have included feedback to Ofqual’s consultations on both general and vocational qualifications, supporting Ali and the team in putting together training offers and ensuring they’re appropriately staffed and generally trying to ensure all aspects of assessment (internal / external, academic / vocational) are included within the discussions held at Trustee meetings.