Heads warn of invigilator shortage for GCSE and A-level exams

Heads say using support staff, teachers and senior leaders to invigilate exams will affect other pupils’ education.

Catherine Lough
Monday 16 May 2022 10:44
Pupils across the country are sitting exams (PA)
Pupils across the country are sitting exams (PA)

Headteachers have raised concerns about a lack of invigilators as pupils across the country started their GCSEs and A-levels on Monday.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that a recent ASCL survey of more than 500 headteachers showed that a third of schools had not been able to recruit enough invigilators for the summer.

“That is a very significant number and this will cause a lot of logistical problems in the schools and colleges affected,” he said.

He added that the shortages seemed to be caused by invigilators being less keen to supervise exams because of Covid fears, as well as an increase in the number of pupils requesting to sit exams in separate rooms away from the exam hall because of stress and anxiety.

Schools and colleges will be doing all they can to support their students to prepare for, and take, their exams this summer

Sarah Hannafin, NAHT

“Many people who work as invigilators are retired teachers, may be concerned about the risks of catching Covid, and therefore not keen on the idea of being in an exam hall with a large number of students particularly as the Government has withdrawn free Covid testing,” he said.

“We have repeatedly called upon the Government to make free Covid tests available to students sitting exams which may have helped to allay these concerns, but the Government has refused to do so. We do not think this is consistent with its rhetoric about the importance of exams.”

Mr Barton said that schools which were unable to recruit enough invigilators would need to use their existing staff, including teaching assistants, teachers or members of the leadership team, which would mean “redeploying those staff from other duties which is likely to have an impact on provision”.

“This is a very frustrating situation for the schools and colleges concerned.”

Sarah Hannafin, senior policy adviser for the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “Schools and colleges have been working hard recruiting invigilators for this summer – these teams are crucial to the smooth running of the exams and with concerns about possible increased absences during the exam season due to Covid it is vital every centre has sufficient capacity.”

She added: “Our members have reported an increased demand for access arrangements including requests for separate or small room invigilation and many of these are linked to increased student anxiety which also create additional challenges for more invigilators and spaces to use.

“Schools and colleges will be doing all they can to support their students to prepare for, and take, their exams this summer – not just in terms of teaching and learning, but also in providing reassurance and pastoral support.

“Most of these students have not taken external exams before and nor have they seen their peers take them over the past two years, so there is a real need to make sure they are familiar with the processes and rules, confident in what to expect and can therefore focus on doing their best in the exams.”

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