Supporting your exams officer

Written by: Jugjit Chima | Published:
Image: iStock

Raising the profile of your examinations officer is key to achieving a successful and problem-free exam series in your school, explains Jugjit Chima

The role of exams officer is misunderstood in many schools. It is sometimes mistaken as being purely an administrative role, and although there are numerous aspects of administration attached to the post, exams officers undertake a range of tasks that are more complex than many imagine.

Very often, the exams office is a “single-person” department, and therefore there can be little or no peer support. Exams officers are not only required to manage the day-to-day logistics of internal and external exams, but they may also be managing a department like many other heads of department within a school.

There may be no teaching or learning responsibility, but management skills are still required in order to manage, train and recruit staff, such as invigilators, engage with a range of internal and external stakeholders, adhere to strict rules and regulations – which are updated annually – and ensure that your school passes an annual inspection.

Failure to deliver in all of these areas may result in a school being prohibited from delivering external examinations. In addition to this, exams officers are also required to possess a thorough knowledge of the examination processes, specification content and educational reforms.

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/minimised, and that mistakes which have an impact upon student achievement and school results are eliminated.

In recent years, as awareness of the importance of the exams officer role has increased, an increasing number of senior leaders have found that their role has expanded to manage the exams department. So, how is this best achieved?

Although the “churn” among the exams office community is quite high – approximately 500 new exams officers are appointed each year – if you have an experienced member of staff in post then the first, and best, way to manage your exams officer is to listen to them. Ask them to identify the areas in need of improvement and help them to address these.

Very often, experienced exams officers are not only very competent in the role, but they will display great commitment in delivering a successful, error-free, exams series. To best support this work, senior leadership should help to raise the profile of their exams officer among staff, students and parents.

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. Below are 10 suggestions. This is not an exhaustive list, but an excellent starting point.

  1. 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.
  2. If there is not already one in place, agree a job description with roles and responsibilities clearly highlighted. This is particularly significant when agreeing the process around access arrangements, where the role of the exams officer and SENCO must be clearly defined.
  3. Ensure that you hold regular meetings with your exams officer. Record details of each meeting and ensure that actions are addressed.
  4. 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.
  5. Include exams office updates in staff briefings and weekly bulletins/newsletters.
  6. Ensure that key exam dates are added to your school calendar for the forthcoming academic year.
  7. Be aware of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) inspection. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 to late arrivals, to illness and other traumas or situations that might affect attendance or performance in exams/assessments.
  10. 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 these is well-run exams. 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.

  • 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

Further information

  • The Joint Council for Qualifications’ resources and documentation for exams officers: www.jcq.org.uk/exams-office
  • The Exams Office offers free-to-access CPD and induction programmes. Visit http://bit.ly/1Yv6SCn
  • The Exams Office and OCR are working together to host information about local exam officer networks. View a network map at http://bit.ly/1QFWOoy


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