Exam board furloughs some examiners and offers £250 goodwill payment to others

An exam board is furloughing some of its examiners, but offering others a £250 one-off “goodwill” payment instead.

Cambridge Assessment, which owns exam boards OCR and Cambridge International, is the first organisation to tell examiners of its pay arrangements in light of exam cancellations this summer.

Whether the boards can use government help to pay examiners’ wages is expected to impact any rebate schools may receive on the exam fees they’ve already paid.

Last week, Cambridge Assessment examiners whose work is not needed were either offered furlough or an ex-gratia taxable payment of £250.

Cambridge Assessment told Schools Week that the payment was higher than the sum examiners would have earned if they had been put on furlough.

But those examiners have expressed disappointment about the offer, claiming that it is much less than they would have earnt this year.

The email setting out the offer from Cambridge Assessment also seems to have caused confusion among some examiners. It stated that examiners were being offered an ex-gratia payment because the “amount you would receive through the scheme would not be sufficient for you to participate”.

There are no lower earning limits on eligibility for the scheme.

An examiner with Cambridge International, who earnt around £2,000 last exam season, said: “We are all navigating unknown territory with this pandemic. But to send an email with no explanation other than ‘we think this is the better option for you’ and then to put a five-working-day deadline on a response – and not have the means in place to contact people who have questions as a matter of urgency – is beyond me.

“It adds to people’s anxiety and uncertainty about their finances. Something nobody needs in this current time.”

Jane Hallas: ‘This is a complex area of law and so advice should be sought. It is quite a minefield’

Cambridge Assessment said it had followed the government’s guidance on furlough, which states that employers can claim for the higher of either: the amount an employee earned in the same month last year, or an average of an employee’s monthly earnings from the last year.

The furlough scheme runs until the end of June.

Schools Week understands the ex-gratia payments will be funded by the exam boards, not the government. But Cambridge Assessment did not comment on this.

Confirmation that its examiners qualify for furlough follows weeks of uncertainty.

However, the three other main exam boards, AQA, Pearson and WJEC, are still working on their arrangements.

There is also still confusion in the sector. For instance, guidance on the National Education Union website suggests that since most examiners are self-employed, they could benefit under the self-employed income support scheme.

Employment arrangements also seem to vary by exam board. Pearson examiners are on short-term contracts, while at WJEC they are independent contractors.

Jane Hallas, head of education and solicitor at employment law and HR support firm Ellis Whittam, said there are potentially three employment statuses – self-employed, employee and worker.

Employees or “workers” would have to have been on the payroll before March 19 this year to qualify for furlough.

For the “limb b” worker status, “the awarding body would have to get their agreement to be furloughed and designate them as a furloughed employee”.

She added: “All employees are also workers, but not all workers are employees. A worker may, in certain circumstances, be classed as an employee if they meet certain conditions. This is a complex area of law and so advice should be sought. It is quite a minefield.”

A Cambridge Assessment spokesperson said they had been writing to examiners “to explain our understanding of which of them may be able to access the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and in other cases what support we can offer them.”

They added any assessment specialists with questions about their individual circumstances should get in touch on the examiner helpline.