During the 2013/14 academic year, more than £123 million was spent on examination fees. However, this figure is not the total cost of exams for schools, neither does it highlight where unnecessary costs were incurred.
Perhaps most senior leaders are aware of the expenditure on exams in their school, but are they confident that maximum efficiency is being achieved when it comes to this expenditure?
It is considered taboo by some to even consider the financial aspect when contemplating students’ exams, but there is no place for unnecessary waste in school budgets – in any area.
Here are five areas that senior leaders should focus upon when considering expenditure on exams.
Timely exam submissions
The most obvious way to avoid additional expenditure is to ensure that exam entries are submitted on time.
The deadline for GCSE/GCE entries for the main awarding bodies was February 21. This date is now consistent for GCSE and GCE entries, and you should insist that heads of department submit entry details (student and subject, including specification/unit codes and so on) to your exams officer in good time.
This also means allowing your exams officer ample to time to process and submit these entries, which let’s not forget will come from more than a dozen departments.
Be aware that if this deadline is not met then late fees will be incurred. Most late entries incur a “double fee” which increases further the later an entry is made.
Invest in your exams officer
The exams officer role is not simply managing the day-to-day examination process. Exams officers have to keep up-to-date with the latest educational reforms and what impact they will have upon exams, as well as being aware of the different requirements of a range of qualifications from several awarding organisations.
It is important that you support the professional development of your exams officer. This may mean accessing quality CPD from established training providers, such as the Regional Training Agency, ensuring that your exams officer attends local network meetings, or joining support organisations.
This investment in your exams officer will reap dividends in more effective administrative processes and increased efficiency.
Consider your exam rooming carefully
Think carefully about the rooming of exams. Although it is sometimes impossible to avoid using classrooms, support your exams officer in acquiring larger areas such as sports halls, assembly halls and drama rooms.
They will request these rooms for very good reasons. This may include the ease of getting exam materials/question papers to one place as opposed to several, and dealing with any issues which may arise. However, on the financial side, larger rooms also reduce invigilation costs.
The invigilation ratio for written exams is one per 30 candidates or fewer. Therefore, in a hall containing 180 candidates, seven invigilators will be needed (in case one needs to accompany students to the toilet etc).
If these candidates were spread over nine rooms (as it would be difficult to accommodate 30 candidates in each room when considering that desks must be 1.25 metres apart from the centre of each desk), not only would you require nine invigilators, but you would also require additional invigilators to deal with toilet requests, sickness or other issues.
Where will Access Arrangement candidates sit their exams? There is a misconception that each candidate requiring a reader or scribe needs to be accommodated separately with one room per candidate. Not only could this create a timetabling headache for the exams officer, but it may also have an impact upon invigilation.
If you have an adequately sized room, four candidates requiring a reader or scribe could be seated in each corner of the room. To ensure that candidates are not disturbed, invest in sound reduction/acoustic partition panels which can be placed around each desk.
Such equipment has a dual purpose as it can be used throughout the year by music or drama departments, or in any other area in the school where noise reduction is required.
It is possible to get value for money when purchasing exams equipment by taking the time to shop around. On average, schools replace their exams furniture every five years, yet most schools are unaware that they can often be spending hundreds of pounds more than needed on exams furniture.
Exam desks and tables are costly per unit and experience considerable wear and tear. A simple internet search reveals an alarming difference in price on such equipment.
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