Exams will be a test for heads

25th April 2003 at 01:00
Finding support staff to take over invigilation from teachers could be tough. Phil Revell reports.

THE recent workload deal has cerated a new recruitment problem to furrow headteachers' brows. Where will they find the thousands of support staff needed to take over a host of time-consuming administrative tasks from teachers?

In the exam term it is natural that the task at the front of people's minds is invigilation. One head is even considering installing closed-circuit television in exam rooms because of worries about the ability of support staff to invigilate ("Fear that heads will be workload losers", TES, April 4).

Chris Nicholls, head of Chelmsford's Moulsham high school, is only moderately confident that support staff will be able to replace teacher invigilators, as the workload agreement proposes. "We are all in new territory," he said.

The agreement - called "Time for Standards" - is still out for consultation, but, if implemented, it will require schools to employ extra support staff to supervise public exams from September 2005.

The workload reforms will require changes to teachers' contracts, but not to exam board rules (see box). In fact, existing regulations already permit non-teacher invigilators, and, in the post-16 sector, colleges have been using support staff for some time.

Just down the road from Chris Nicholls' school is Colchester sixth- form college, where examinations officer Bonnie Ellis has been using external invigilators for three or four years. "We have built up a team," she says."We have about 30 on our books."

The impetus came from the explosion in the number and type of exams, a process that has been under way for some years, but which was exacerbated by the Curriculum 2000 A-level reforms. On busy days the college may have exams in 12 different rooms.

"It was obvious that teaching staff wouldn't have been able to cope," said Ms Ellis. This year Colchester will have non-teachers in charge of exam rooms for the first time.

"We have senior invigilators who are paid more. They will run the exam," says Ms Ellis.

Colchester recruited its exams team largely by word of mouth. A number are teachers, though not all: the college also uses some ex-students who have finished university courses.

College students are told to bring their statement of entry and photo ID to every exam and the college has produced an information pack to aid invigilators. "It's important that they understand the system," says Ms Ellis."But it has worked very smoothly."

It seems likely that schools will want to dip their toes in these unfamiliar waters before the deadline of September 2005. At least one supply agency, Capita, has anticipated demand and is offering invigilators as part of an overall cover service. Agency staff cost around pound;9 an hour. Colchester was paying a little less than that for their standard invigilators, with senior supervisors paid a pound;4 premium.

Which takes heads to their next problem. At present they get this service for nothing. A conservative estimate suggests that external invigilation will add at least pound;8,000 to an 11 to16 school's staffing costs, and 11 to18 schools could double that.

It is still not clear how practical and oral exams could be externally supervised. Nor will the availability of external invigilators reassure heads who are concerned about the ability of non-teachers to ensure good behaviour in an exam.

In theory these are all issues for the Implementation Review Unit, the panel of teachers announced last week whose task it will be to monitor the way that workload reforms are introduced. But in practice it looks as if schools are going to have to work out how to manage the transfer of invigilation for themselves.

phil.revell@ukonline.co.uk

RULES FOR INVIGILATORS

Regulations covering the conduct of public examinations are the same for all the examination boards. The Joint Council for General Qualifications produces a guide that is sent to all examination centres.

The rules (page 10 para 6) make clear that invigilation arrangements are the responsibility of the head of each examination centre - usually the head or principal.

Any "suitable adult" could be used; the one stipulation being that parents could not be in sole charge of an exam involving their own children.

For practical tests the regulations stipulate that a teacher of the subject "should also be present in the examination room at the start of the test and as necessary thereafter to deal with technical difficulties."

Capita Education Resourcing is offering fully-vetted support staff for schools, including office staff, technicians, librarians, caretakers and invigilators. Candidates will have relevant qualifications andor experience.

Rules at www.jcgq.org.ukPublications and Documents

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