With the exams budget being one of the largest in any school – averaging around £80,000 per school in 2011 – your exams officer is a pivotal member of staff.
The role of exams officer is unique. It is not merely an administration post. Exams officers are required to manage the day-to-day logistics of internal and external exams, manage an exams department, line-manage, train and recruit staff, such as invigilators – all responsibilities which are often not reflected in the job title or status of the role.
In addition to this, exams officers are also required to have a thorough knowledge of the examination processes, specification content, annually updated rules and regulations, and interact with a range of stakeholders.
An effective exams officer will not only manage the smooth administration and conducting of exams, but can also save your school a significant amount of money and protect a reputation. They can ensure that late exam entry fees are avoided or minimised, and that mistakes which could have an impact upon student achievement and school results are eliminated.
However, in recent years, many exams officers have seen the profile of their role diminish. This has led to many being reclassified as administrative staff as local authorities look to cut costs.
This has brought about significant wage cuts for many and a reduction in hours for exams-related tasks, or the acquisition of additional roles within the school staffing structure (especially as headteachers perceive that the switch to linear exams means there is less “exams-related work” for exams officers compared to the old modular exams system).
What some senior leaders have failed to appreciate is that the “void” created by the removal of modular general qualification examinations in January and March has been filled with additional tasks such as conducting internal exams under external conditions and managing and administering non-general qualifications that run throughout the academic year.
Many schools do, however, appreciate and recognise the role undertaken by exams officers, but are often unaware of how to further support and raise the profile of their exams officer.
Either way, senior leadership teams must continue to implement measures to ensure that the profile of their exams officer is high within the school. By doing this, you will also support your exams officer in becoming more effective and efficient in one of the most significant and important roles in any school.
Below are 10 ways in which to raise the profile of your exams officer. This is not an exhaustive list, but an excellent starting point to ensure that you are helping your exams officer in their role.
Support the professional development of your exams officer. Put strategies in place to ensure that they not only continually enhance their skill-set to undertake their role, but that they are also kept fully informed of the changes and reforms in exams administration and best practice in exams management.
If there is not already one in place, agree a job description with roles and responsibilities clearly highlighted.
Ensure that your exams officer is line-managed by a member of leadership team. Meetings should be held regularly with a clear agenda which addresses outstanding issues and areas in need of support/development.
Provide an opportunity for your exams officer to attend and have an “agenda slot” at heads of department meetings where they can disseminate and acquire key exams-related information.
Include exams office updates in staff briefings and weekly bulletins/newsletters.
Add key exam dates in your school calendar.
Be aware of the Joint Council for Qualifications inspection. Your school will be inspected each academic year, so get your exams officer to talk you through the outcome of the inspection. Highlight and praise strengths identified and form a strategy to address areas in need of development.
Ensure that the leadership team clearly highlights to students the role of the exams officer and invigilators, and the rules, regulations and sanctions associated with internal and external examinations. When malpractice or other issues do occur, support your exams officer in dealing with these within the rules and regulations and while maintaining the integrity of the examination.
Support your exams officer when dealing with parents by writing to detail exam rules and regulations and how the school will deal with issues ranging from malpractice and late arrivals to illness and other traumas or situations that might affect attendance or performance in exams/assessments.
Encourage your exams officer to network with local exams officers to share best practice and support those who may be new to the role.
Schools are judged on a range of criteria and performance indicators, one of which is well run examinations. An efficient exams officer will play a pivotal role in ensuring that the hard work of students and teachers is supported with an examination process which has their confidence – one where exams-related issues are administered effectively and within the rules and regulations.
Poorly run exams can have a lasting negative effect upon your students and the reputation of your school.
Jugjit Chima is one of the founders of The Exams Office, an online support tool for exams officers and data managers. Visit www.theexamsoffice.org