Whether or not a change of government next May results in any exams-related changes, the fact remains that linear exams are something that schools and colleges have to prepare for this summer
The impact of the switch to a linear form of assessment upon those engaged in teaching and learning has been previously highlighted. However, little has been made of how this affects the conducting of exams within schools and colleges and the role of exams officers.
Let’s not forget that schools have dealt with linear exams before. Modular GCSEs were only introduced in 2009, but the issue is that a significant number of school staff – from the senior leadership team to heads of department as well as exams officers – have little experience of the issues created by a linear assessment system.
In some ways, linear exams reduce workload. Exams are not spread throughout the year and therefore there are fewer “re-sit” opportunities. However, they also bring other issues to the fore – such as exam clashes.
It is inevitable that as the vast majority of external exams will now be staged during the summer series, students will experience exam clashes.
When exam clashes occur, there are specific arrangements which schools must put into place to cater for those students who are affected.
For the students themselves, an exam clash can cause additional angst at a time when considerable stress will already be present.
However, if exams officers are supported by the senior leadership team to plan as early as possible for exam clashes, then any potential issues are easily resolved and students can be put at ease (as they see a situation which is being managed effectively and efficiently).
So, what should you do if you identify exam clashes in your school? Here are 10 tips:
Where are the clashes?
Identify exam clashes as early as possible. Using your management information system, your exams officer should identify when exam clashes will occur and the students who will be affected.
Know the regulations
Be clear over the JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) guidelines for dealing with exam clashes (see summary below). You must be aware of what you can and cannot do when an exam clash occurs.
The JCQ provides clear guidance over GCSE and GCE exam clashes – see sections 2.9 to 2.16 of JCQ’s Instructions for Conducting Examinations booklet (see further information).
Keep parents and candidates fully informed at all times. Contact parents as early as possible once an exam clash is identified. Clearly explain the regulations in such instances and the measures you have put in place to support their son or daughter. Notify the candidate of the arrangements in writing, perhaps via a letter alongside their individual timetable.
The golden rule
Examinations can never be taken on an earlier day than that scheduled on the timetable. This is the “golden rule” when dealing with exam clashes.
Speak to the students
Discuss all options with the candidate. Although school logistics such as rooming and invigilation are important, the needs of the candidate should always come first. Would they prefer to sit all of the exams on the scheduled day? Identify which order they would prefer to sit the exams. How often will they require supervised rest breaks? How long should these last?
Avoid overnight supervision if possible. This adds anxiety over a longer period for the candidate(s) and in the age of social media is much harder to administer.
Make use of a twilight session if possible. This will provide the candidate(s) with time to relax and gather thoughts in between exams.
Submit a request for special consideration to the relevant awarding body for the final paper which is taken.
Clearly identify the “exam clash” candidate(s) in the examination room and ensure that invigilators know what the supervision arrangements are for these candidates.
Have you considered access arrangements? If a candidate is eligible for an access arrangement, then ensure that this is incorporated into your planning and is made available.
Exam clashes: the regulations
You should consult the JCQ Instructions for Conducting Examinations booklet for guidance relating to exam clashes, but below is some of the key guidance. An exam clash occurs when a student has:
Two or more exams timetabled in the same session.
Multiple exams timetabled for the same day and the duration of these papers is more than six hours for GCE AS and A2 examinations including extra time and/or supervised rest breaks, or more than five-and-a-half hours for GCSE examinations, including extra time and/or supervised rest breaks.
Two or more exams in one session
In this instance, the school may decide the order in which to hold the exams and give candidates a short supervised break between papers within a session.
If the total time of two or more exams in one session is more than three hours including extra time and/or supervised rest breaks you may conduct an examination in a later or earlier session within the same day. No paperwork is required or prior permission needed from the awarding body, but “clash” candidates must be adequately supervised.
Multiple exams on the same day
In this instance, if the duration of exams is more than that specified above, candidates may be allowed to take an examination the following morning, including Saturdays. If “overnight supervision” is to be implemented, the school must ensure that:
Candidates must either be sitting examinations or under centre supervision from 30 minutes after the published starting time for the delayed examination until they begin their examination. This is to make sure there is no contact with other candidates.
A member of centre staff or an invigilator is appointed to supervise the candidate at all times while he/she is on the premises.
The supervision of a candidate on journeys to and from the school and overnight is undertaken by the candidate’s parent/carer or centre staff. The school must determine a method of supervision which ensures the candidate’s wellbeing.
The JCQ form Timetable Variation and Confidentiality Declaration for Overnight Supervision is completed before the overnight supervision is to commence (the form may be downloaded from the JCQ website).
The parties involved (parents, candidates etc.) are informed that any infringement of the conditions governing overnight supervision arrangements may lead to the application of penalties and sanctions to the candidate’s examinations taken in the relevant series, as detailed in the JCQ publication Suspected Malpractice in Examinations and Assessments: Policies and Procedures.
You are satisfied that your arrangements maintain the integrity and security of the examination.
All completed forms are kept and made available in your school for inspection until the closing date for enquiries about results has passed (forms must not be sent to an awarding body).
The relevant awarding body is informed immediately of any known or suspected contravention of the arrangements for overnight supervision of a candidate.
The headteacher is satisfied of any arrangement for overnight supervision of a candidate where necessary and accepts full responsibility for the security of the examinations throughout. This includes ensuring that all copies of the question paper used on the earlier day must be sealed in an envelope and returned to secure storage until all candidates at your centre have taken that examination.
Further informationJCQ’s Instructions for Conducting Examinations is available alongside a range of other documentation from JCQ’s website. Visit www.jcq.org.uk/exams-office/ice---instructions-for-conducting-examinations
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