Exams office staff affected by burn-out over reforms


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The Independent Online

School and college staff responsible for running GCSE and A-level exams could quit their jobs in large numbers because of burn-out linked to the constant upheaval in the system, a new report warns.

Many are expected to step down this September rather than face a guaranteed three more years of changes to the examination system, according to the Examination Officers’ Association.

The association represents staff in school or college exam centres responsible for the smooth running of examinations – ensuring there are no timetabling clashes between different qualifications, overseeing invigilation arrangements and making sure those who are ill or disabled get extra time for their exams.

Many have already suffered cutbacks in the resources necessary to help them to carry out their roles, according to the study, which looks at how they have coped with the changes in exams this year.

It concludes: “For some there does seem to be a culture of insecurity around which can only add more stress to those individuals who may be already working in very difficult situations. Everyone has their low moments when under stress, but just getting by ‘year in year out’ will take its toll eventually, and the ‘burn-out’ of exams staff is a growing concern.

“In the first week of this summer’s exams, the EOA was getting a request each day from centres that had suddenly lost their exams officer. Many of the cases were simply down to stress, and in some of those centres there may be no expert exams office staff to process results [next week for A-levels and the following week for GCSEs].”

The EOA has set up an emergency service to exams centres to help them to cope.

The report adds: “As we approach this autumn, more exams office staff will start to review their position as the new wave of reform sweeps in, and for some they will have experienced changes in exams since 2000. That is 14 years of continual pressure from educational change.

“The system needs to prepare itself for further change over the next few years.”

Andrew Harland, chief officer of the EOA, added: “We’ve always looked at what people’s intentions are for the next year, and the percentage that have said they are reviewing their situation as to whether to carry on has gone up.

“This year, because there are major changes for the next three years, we just anticipate more people will do so.”

The report says that staff have been “more robust and resilient” than expected this year, so that the system at present “may be creaking but it’s far from broke”.

However, it adds: “Without a proficient exams office workforce, the system will begin to creak because it is the exams office community who are the interface between the internal activities associated with teaching and learning and the external public exams system.”

This year there has been a switch from coursework to sudden death end-of-term exams – a trend that will continue over the next three years. In addition, more schools are embracing rival examinations to the GCSE and A-level which can cause conflict over timetabling arrangements.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We make no apologies for radically reforming GCSEs to address the grade-inflation which has undermined public confidence in our exams system and led to many young people leaving school without the skills required by employers sand universities.”

She added: “Our reforms will ensure we have an exams system that parents, employers and universities have confidence in.”