April 2020 – What a difference a few weeks make…


This month’s blog is written by Marcia Woods, ex-exams officer and national invigilator trainer, who considers the impact of the Coronavirus upon exams and exams officers.


I have to confess that this is my third attempt at this blog. These monthly blogs are usually written by people with some experience in the world of exams, trying to pass on a few hints, tips and nuggets of good practice for the month, particularly aimed at some of the newer members of our exams community, but hopefully of interest to all.


On Monday 16 March I thought I had better get on with drafting out a blog so I started writing about the things you might need to be thinking about during April. I wrote about the need to make sure that all your invigilators had been trained for the summer – I even suggested that you might want to use The Exams Office’s online training and assessment modules as an alternative to gathering staff together in one place. I wrote about creating seating plans (making sure access arrangements were clearly shown) and finally I wrote about making sure our policies were up to date – particularly the one related to contingency planning. I thought the contingency plans might be of particular relevance. But, I would never envisaged what would be announced by the Department for Education on 18 March. It was on that day that the Government made their unprecedented announcement that all GCSE and A level exams are cancelled for this May and June and my first draft went out of the window (the least of our worries, I know!). This announcement was way above the scale of the JCQ contingency planning for the days leading up to the 24 June 2020 – “the JCQ Contingency day for GCSE and/or GCE examinations should sustained national or local disruption arise during the June 2020 examination series”. This really is ‘off the scale’, but it also shows how serious the current health situation is, and how every aspect of our lives will be affected.


So, I am really sorry, but I have hardly any hints and tips and nuggets of good practice for you for April, except please don’t stress until you know what you are stressing about, and don’t stress even then! So far, this is what we know:


  • The awarding bodies will be asking teachers to submit their judgement about the grade that they believe the student would have received if exams had gone ahead.


  • To produce the above, teachers will take into account a range of evidence and data including performance in mock exams and non-exam assessment


  • The exam boards will then combine this information with other relevant data, including prior attainment, and use this information to produce a calculated grade for each student, which will be a best assessment of the work they have put in


  • Calculated grades will aim to be provided to students before the end of July


  • If students do not believe the correct process has been followed in their case they will be able to appeal on that basis


  • If students do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance, they will have the opportunity to sit an exam at the earliest reasonable opportunity, once schools are open again. Students will also have the option to sit their exams in summer 2021


Exams may be cancelled during May and June, but it seems that there will be an exams series of some description once centres reopen.


Since that momentous announcement on 18 March. I am pleased that The Exams Office have been working non-stop liaising with all the exams stakeholders: the Department for Education, Ofqual, JCQ, and the individual awarding bodies to ensure that they have the most current information available on the TEO website.  Jugjit, Jean and Nick, and the other staff working for The Exams Office have been amazing at producing clear documents for exams officers, and also SLT staff, providing advice from TEO as well as links to information from the other exam stakeholders.


I have the feeling that by the time you read this blog you will be way ahead of the game, so I have very little advice to add that will not have been superseded in the next few days and weeks..


However, one thing I know about exams officers is that you will all want to do your very best for your students. I think the way we will be able to do this for summer 2020 is to collect the information requested by the exam boards when instructed, making sure our teaching colleagues take particular note of any specific criteria set to ensure a level playing field (eg how to predict a grade for a student who has been ill or disadvantaged in some other way) – and submit it to the boards by the relevant deadline – a deadline; at least that is a familiar concept for us all!


However, please remember it will not be the exams officer’s job to produce predicted grades themselves. It is also not our job to answer questions from school colleagues or parents regarding things that the DfE has not yet answered, for example, what will be the dates of delayed exams? In the first instance, we could inform the enquirer that we cannot predict what the DfE will decide, and if they persist we should either reiterate what we have already said, or if there is nothing more to add leave that email or phone call to one side until the time comes when you have the information.


So instead of continuing to waffle on with vague hints and tips I wanted to publicly offer my, and I hope your, thanks to a number of very deserving, hardworking people.


Whatever your political views I think we do have to recognise that the Government and DfE have been decisive in announcing that exams have been cancelled. It is very disappointing for students and staff who have worked for at least two years towards sitting their GCSE or A levels only to have the rug pulled from under them, but I think it is better than a constant state of indecision and worry.


Recognition and support also need to go to all the staff at Ofqual, JCQ and all the awarding bodies who now have the extremely difficult task of formulating a fair and equitable system for producing grades for each exam candidate without the benefit of written exam paper results, as well laying out clear guidelines to schools on the system, collecting in data, processing it and producing exam grades for each student ready for results days, whenever they may be.


I also want to offer thanks to Katherine Coburn and Lynne Smith who administer the Exams Officers UK Facebook group.   I have to confess that Facebook is not really something I am very good at, but this closed group available only to exams officers is invaluable in helping us all keep up to date with a plethora of exams issues.  Katherine and Lynne have been working tirelessly at this time to post the latest information regarding exams on the group’s pages as well as managing their own schoolwork. If you are not already one of the 3,000 plus members of the group now might be the time to request to join.


Huge, massive, enormous thanks need to go to Jugjit, Jean and Nick and the other behind the scenes people who make up The Exams Office. Without their forward thinking and dedication to exams officers all over the world we would be in a much more confusing place than we are at the moment. I am so impressed with their virtually instant response to this undreamed-of situation. I am even more impressed that as well as thinking about what will be happening in the next few weeks they are already considering the best use of the TEO summer conferences and planning to review what has happened now to inform policy for the future, as well as helping to set up a National Association of Exams Officers to represent us moving forward – for which I urge you to participate in the consultation which is currently taking place.


Finally, I want to express my thanks to each and every exams officer in the country. It is easy for me to sit here at home typing this blog from the comfort of my sofa, but I want to say how proud I am of all of you still working whether in school or from home to ensure that all the candidates for the summer of 2020 get the best results experience possible in these very trying circumstances.


Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, I hope that this situation does not last so very long, and I look forward to joining you at the summer exams conference hopefully in July, but if not, whenever.


Thank you so much to each and every one of you.

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The Exams Office takes no responsibility for any outcomes in centres as a result of the information provided on our website or within our documentation. It is the responsibility of centres to apply this information as they deem necessary within their own centre. You should always contact/refer to the relevant awarding body for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding their qualifications.