In 2009, government estimates placed the average school exams budget at approximately £70,000. Naturally, this number will vary between institutions, but the message is clear – the exams budget is one of the largest within a school. The person managing this budget – the exams officer or manager – is clearly a significant member of staff and needs to be supported, but how can the senior leadership team ensure that they are doing this effectively?
For example, take the issue of late entry fees, which are imposed when schools miss entry deadlines that have been clearly stated at the start of each academic year. A study in 2013 for the Department for Education (DfE) highlighted that in 2012 more than £17 million was spent by schools and colleges on late entry fees for GCSE and GCE qualifications alone – more than £2,000 per institution.
Awarding bodies reiterate, on a regular basis, the need to ensure that information is collated accurately and on time, as late entries cause them issues they can most certainly do without – usually at a time of year when they are at their busiest. Are you supporting your exams officer to reduce this aspect of exam costs?
Another key function of the exams office is the delivery of a “well-run” exams system. Quite simply, this is a system which adheres to the requirements of the awarding bodies and to the Joint Council for Qualification (JCQ) rules/regulations.
Students, teachers and parents should be clear over how exams will be conducted and what is expected of them. Students should be in no doubt over how to prepare for exams days, what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the exams hall, and the definition of malpractice (and how this will be dealt with).
So, to ensure minimum spend on late entry fees and a well-run exams system in your school, there needs to be effective support for your exams officer. Here are 10 tips which act as a starting point for school leaders to help them ensure this support is in place.
Line manager support
Does your exams officer have a line manager? Do regular meetings take place? What is discussed at these meetings?
Have you acquired effective external support for your exams officer? Do they have day-to-day support networks they can draw on and access to training to meet their individual needs?
Ensure that all members of the senior leadership team are familiar with the JCQ regulations. Clearly define the roles and responsibilities associated with exams. Not all exams administration and management – such as the process for access arrangements – is necessarily the responsibility of the exams officer. Your exams officer should have a job description which clearly highlights their role and responsibilities.
Does the senior leadership team have access to a review of the exams year? Does this review cover exam fees and late fees, other issues and strengths, weaknesses and risks etc?
Is the senior leadership team aware of the JCQ inspection, which usually takes place in each exams centre every year? Are there any areas in need of improvement? If the JCQ inspection has been successful, has the exams officer been commended for their work in achieving this status?
Heads of department
Does the exams officer have access to staff who will provide them with key information around exam entries, amendments and withdrawals? If this is a role for the heads of department, does the exams officer have a “meeting slot” at the start of each departmental meeting to request and disseminate information?
Late entry fees
If one department within your school is consistently incurring late entry fees, is this being addressed?
As part of the induction for NQTs, are they made aware of the main issues surrounding exams administration and management – and their roles and responsibilities within this as teaching staff?
How familiar are students with the requirements of external exams by the time they reach the summer of year 11? Have previous years’, or mock, exams been used to replicate external exams and familiarise students with “exam room etiquette”? Are assemblies or classroom sessions utilised to reinforce expectations?
How do you involve parents in supporting the exams process? For example, are parents clear over the expectations of their children within the exam room? Are they aware of malpractice and how this has to be dealt with?
Do they know what happens if their child arrives late or misses an exam? Are they aware of the results and enquiries about results process?
The above is not a definitive guide, but it is a start for all school leaders to help them ensure that not only are they supporting their exams officer, but they are also delivering best value for money around exams and, most importantly, giving their teachers and students every chance to achieve exams success.
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