GCSE reforms causing 'burnout' and stress for school staff

Stephen Exley

Exam officers have warned of “burnout” among school staff struggling to contend with soaring stress levels and logistical difficulties triggered by the barrage of changes affecting this year’s GCSEs.

Regulator Ofqual has already revealed that the reforms coming into effect this year, designed to crack down on early and multiple GCSE entries, are likely to create volatility in this year’s results, prompting widespread concern among school leaders.

A survey published today by the Examination Officers’ Association (EOA) today reveals that the overhaul – which included the ending of January and March sittings, switching to end-of-course assessment and reducing resits by only including a student’s first attempt at each exam in school league tables – has also created a host of practical problems on the ground for schools around the country.

A quarter of the EOA members surveyed found the exam season more stressful than in previous years.

The pressure on schools caused by a greater volume of exams being taken simultaneously has also led to difficulties finding sufficient venues for the papers to be sat in. Two-thirds (68 per cent) of officers reported an increase in problems finding locations to sit exams, with over half (56 per cent) struggling to find sufficient invigilators and 46 per cent being forced to contend with a rise in exam clashes.

The “burnout of exams staff is a growing concern”, the EOA report says, with a number of officers being signed off sick due to stress during the exams.

“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," the report says. "Many of the cases were simply down to stress.”

Two-thirds (69 per cent) of exam officers reported an increase in students requesting special access arrangements, such as extra time, rest breaks and the use of laptops.

“Some exams-office staff report that there may be an increase in requests as more and more learners may feel under pressure to perform in just one exam session with no opportunity to resit until the following year,” the report says. “Clearly for those learners with disabilities or who may just be very unwell this summer, then they too will have to wait for another year before resitting their exams.”

The increase in requests has generated significant extra costs for schools, the report adds.

Headteachers have also expressed concern the raft of reforms could lead to “wild swings” in this year’s GCSE results.

For more on concerns relating to GCSE and A-level exams, see today's edition of the TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

Related stories:

Ofqual chief warns of exam results rollercoaster - August 2014

Early GCSE entries fall dramatically - May 2014

Schools face five solid years of constant exam revolution - April 2014

GCSEs: 'Pass' grades to get tougher and new recognition for 'exceptional' pupils - April 2014


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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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