I have put off writing this post until today. I wanted to wait until the Year 11 exam results were in before I tempted fate if I'm honest. But thankfully results day was yesterday and I haven't received any queries or concerns so I think I may have survived my first season as exams officer...
I was asked to step up and be named exams officer a few weeks before they all started. As a senior teacher in an alternative provision it makes sense that it'd be me who does this job. We are a hospital school, Ofsted registered and we act as a host centre for young people in our care during exam season. Thankfully I didn't have 200 kids in the cohort; I have nothing but the utmost respect for Exams Officers in mainstream schools because the handful that I had sitting exams this year was enough!
But even with a small group our situation meant some different challenges.
Being a host centre and not an entering centre meant we had to have three different exam centre numbers and one exam board didn't bother give us one preferring to use our name and communicate by phone. In the beginning stages this proved awkward and contacting exam boards meant flicking though my folder to make sure I gave them the correct information.
Also, every student had do their exam in a separate room even if several were sitting the same paper. This obviously had an impact on staffing. On top of this was the practicalities of so many exams on at once: needing several exam packs, clocks, desks and even chairs (2 - one for student and one for invigilator). This was exacerbated by the need for a scribe for two students resulting in three people in one small hospital room!
As a host centre we did not receive the exam papers in advance. It would have been far easier to be organised if I had received the papers through the post, but as it was they were emailed to me one hour before the exam was due to start. This meant sitting by my computer and praying to God that the staff printer was working. I had to beg several people to let me use theirs at one point when I walked around the corner and found a technician kneeling beside ours with its innards all over the floor half an hour before the exam was due to start!
You may also be faced with the problem that the paper may not be sent at all. More than once one particular exam board failed to send the exam papers until I phoned and shouted about it. Their automatic system to remind them had not picked them up apparently. But by getting through to a human, the situation was fixed in the nick of time.
But we coped and coped well. I lost weight running up and down to our double-doored, five-lever mortice lock-secured exam cupboard, the students were able to sit their exams and all was well in the end.
Below are some things that I wish I'd known at the start of my exam officer tenure.
- You never knew what you'll need and when. Keep a record of who invigilated which exams. Keep a record of exams where a scribe was used and also when one was refused. Photocopy the sheets to be sure. Keep a photocopy of the attendance registers and postal labels you've printed and used. And make a nice neat folder to put them all in.
- You will also need a Parcel Force Dispatch Log for each student/entering centre and you fill in a page for every day you dispatch papers. You include the Consignment number, date of exam, paper number and delivery postcode. Get the parcel force person to sign, date and time the collection - this is effectively your receipt.
Check out this page for details on the Parcel Force Yellow Label Service: CLICK HERE
PHONE PEOPLE ASAP!
- Call the exam boards at least a month before the examinations begin to ensure they know who you are and that you are adequately registered. Then get everything confirmed in writing via email - the last thing you want is a young person thinking they can do their GCSEs with you and then have to rearrange at the last minute. You need the back up of the printed word, just in case.
- Likewise as soon as a young person is admitted, call their home school exam officer to get the ball rolling. In our setting we had students come in with exams literally the next day. The onus is on the home school to get the information to you as soon as they can.
- Once you have the details, fill in the Candidate Transfer from from JCQ, scan it in with real signatures and email directly to the exam boards and cc in the home school. Always follow up with a phone call and use read receipt on the email!
JCQ Information webpage: CLICK HERE
- Make up exam packs with the relevant posters, equipment, clock, mini whiteboard and marker for times, and pens etc. Include invigilator guidelines from JCQ and the relevant forms for exam violations. This makes it quicker to set up the exams. (just remember to take out calculators when invigilating a non-calculator exam!)
- Make an exam timetable with all the papers, the exam length, exam subject and code. Assign each exam to the correct invigilator and leave some space if you are a host centre and my need to add others underneath.
SAVE TIME WHERE YOU CAN!
- Fill in a blank Candidate Transfer form with your centre's details on it ready for new students when they arrive. Photocopy several. This will save you time writing out the same information many times, especially if you have to send it to several exam boards. (also scan it and email the hard copy version - they won't except a digital signature).
- Print the students exam list as soon as you get them - put them in a folder labelled for each child. (An expander file works well as you can have a slot for each exam and add with you need to it easily.) AQA will also send specific registers for each paper so print these and store them in the order they will be taken. This will save you a lot of hassle. Similarly print out and stick the the postage labels to envelopes as soon as they arrive and if you can avoid leaving it to the day you have to mail them. Store them in the expander file ready to be filled and posted. (And buy sellotape and your own bright yellow paper to, only AQA send out sticky labels to print on!)
THE PARCEL FORCE PERSON IS YOUR FRIEND...
...But remember they are also being paid so make sure they wait for you while you have to run all over the shop to your safe for the scripts!
I will be using this post to remind myself what worked and what didn't for when I have to do it all over again next year!