Changes to exams attract a lot of media attention. Quite understandably, when there are issues around grade boundaries, increases/decreases in GCSE or AS/A level results, impact upon performance tables, and changes to internal assessments, there is considerable interest among the wider public not to mention senior leadership teams and teachers.
However, do headteachers, senior leaders and heads of departments keep abreast of changes in how exams are conducted? Are well run exams not one of the most significant aspects of any school or college?
The government may be constantly striving to place our education system at the top of any “world league table” it can locate, but does it realise that it resides over probably one of the most structured exams systems on the planet?
Thanks to the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), and its awarding body members, we have a clearly defined structure over how exams should be administered and conducted. This may not be the most exciting of areas within the education system, but in the UK, it is certainly one of the most dynamic.
To ensure that there is rigour around how exams are conducted, JCQ produces a range of documents to provide clear guidance of what is – and is not – acceptable when it comes to hosting exams in schools and colleges. These include the following publications:
Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Considerations.
lnstructions for Conducting Examinations (ICE).
Changes are made to these rules and regulations on an annual basis. Exams office staff are aware of this, but what about other staff within school? You could ask “why should they be – isn’t that the job of the exams officer?” – yes, perhaps it is, but some changes this year mean it is imperative that a range of staff, beyond the exams officer, ensures that they are aware of the changes in how exams should be administered.
So, what has changed for the 2014/15 academic year and who is most affected?
Senior leadership team
Previously, JCQ has stated that responsibility for the conducting of exams rests squarely with the head of a school. Responsibility for administering exams and assessments could be devolved to an appointed person (exams officer), but the headteacher is ultimately held responsible for any breaches of the regulations.
Although this stipulation remains within the Instructions for Conducting Examinations document, the General Regulations seem to appreciate the pressures being placed upon headteachers in the current “school-led” world of education. Consequently, an emphasis has now been placed on senior leadership teams to “...read and refer to...” JCQ’s General Regulations.
In reality, this seems to be asking schools and colleges to nominate a member of the senior leadership team to oversee exams, and to also ensure greater support for the exams officer in their everyday role.
Every SENCO needs to thoroughly read the 2014/15 JCQ publication Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Considerations.
Without doubt, SENCOs are being asked to take a more prominent role (if they do not already) and “lead on the access arrangements process within his/her centre”.
JCQ is stating that “ideally” the SENCO will be the in-house specialist teacher, assess students, process the applications online, and hold all of the evidence for inspection purposes. This ensures a holistic approach to the access arrangements process.
Traditionally, exam officers have processed applications and retained candidate evidence. Responsibility for all aspects of the access arrangements process should, in an ideal world, rest with the SENCO, who should have the full support of the senior leadership team.
The importance of the exams officer role is not recognised in every school and college – and it should be. Despite the significance of ensuring that exams run smoothly, since 2000, many exam officers have seen their status – and financial remuneration – diminish.
Even government funding for internal support teams and significant cash resources for external associations have failed to produce a simple structure for the role, such as a clearly defined job description or a national pay scale.
Exam officers are not merely administrative staff, they undertake a significant role which requires specialist knowledge of detailed processes. Yes, there are administrative tasks to complete, but a “temp” could not fulfil the role.
For example, the budget exams officers manage is one of the largest within the school or college, and they are probably the only department that deals with such a wide range of stakeholders, including the senior leadership team, heads of departments, SENCOs, teachers, data staff, invigilators, site staff, students, parents, JCQ, awarding bodies – the list is endless. At least the new JCQ regulations define their role a little more clearly.
The importance of a comprehensively trained and well-informed team of invigilators cannot be under-estimated.
The 2014/15 rules and regulations continue to provide information on the role of readers, scribes and practical assistants. As always, one of the tasks that every invigilator should undertake is to make themselves familiar with the JCQ documentation. The Instructions for Conducting Examinations booklet contains all of the guidance needed to invigilate exams – from candidates arriving late to which electronic equipment is barred from the exam room.
Not many people want a raft of rules and regulations in their everyday role, but the clarity of guidance as provided by JCQ and the awarding bodies should be welcomed.
Every school and college wants their exams to be well run. Even students state that they want clarity, consistency and order during their exam period as it helps them to perform to the best of their ability.
All school and college leaders should ensure that they, and their senior leadership team, are familiar with the JCQ documentation which will be arriving in their schools at the start of the new academic term.
If schools and colleges genuinely want the best for every one of their students then senior leadership teams must support SENCOs and exams officers, as they strive to complement teaching and learning with a well managed exams system.
Jugjit Chima is one of the founders of an online support tool for exams officers and data managers. The Exams Office provides weekly exams and education updates with specific support for new exams officers, which includes hints, tips and guidance documents as well as a range of policy templates.
- The Exams Office website contains a summary of the main changes from the three JCQ publications mentioned in this article. Visit www.theexamsoffice.org
- The documents in this article, as well as a range of other advice and information, can be found within the JCQ exams office online: www.jcq.org.uk/exams-office