Nightmare of summer timetabling

19th January 2001 at 00:00
I READ with interest the article by Martin Whittaker (TES, January 5) on the problems being created by the timetabling of this summer's A and AS-level examinations. As examination officer at this college I would like to point out that the problems illustrated will not be confined to small schools and colleges.

We are a large sixth-form college with a current enrolment of around 2,100 full-time students and will have all of our students sitting examinations this summer for the first time. This is a direct consequence of the introduction of Curriculum 2000.

An initial analysis of our entries for this series indicates that we will have between 600 and 1,100 candidates sitting examinations in virtually every ampm session between June 4 and 15. The imbalance in candidate numbers throughout the series of exams has arisen due to the timetabling of the "old" and "new" examinations at the same time.

Prior consultation with centres would have highlighted in advance the problems that all centres are now required to deal with and would thus have allowed time for an alternative timetable to be arranged. It is effectively too late to do anything at this stage of the administrative cycle.

Our current facilities allow us to accommodate up to 475 candidates in six large rooms which have been used for examinations in previous years. However, in order to accommodate the additional candidates this year, we will need to use up to a maximum of 47 rooms on the days when we have the busiest sessions. The majority of these will be small classrooms only able to accommodate between 15 to 20 candidates.

Due to the large numbers of entries for each subject, a substantial proportion of our examinations will be split between several exam rooms. In order to accommodate the increase in candidates and examinations, we will need to buy an additional 550 extra desks and employ extra invigilatorsand administrative staff.

In addition, we have estimated that we will have approximately 100 clash candidates for quite a few individual exam sessions during this period, and are expecting to have several sessions with up to 30 candidates taking examinations totalling more than six hours in one day.

These particular candidates will thus qualify for overnight supervision arrangements. Supervision arrangements for all clash candidates have to be made by the college, and must conform strictly to the Examination Boards' regulations. Whilst the regulations regarding the notification of clashes to the appropriate examination board have been revised this year, the increase in the numbers of clash candidates for this centre will inevitably lead to additional administration and require even more invigilation arrangements to be provided.

I have recognised for some time that the introduction of Curriculum 2000 would inevitably increase both the size and complexity of the process of administering public examinations. However, it is the timetable arrangements for this summer, jointly agreed by the examination boards, that have turned what was always going to be a difficult transitional year into an absolute nightmare for all centres.

Apart from the significant increase in costs, we are faced with coping with the logistical difficulties outlined above and at the same time are expected to adhere to the exacting regulations set by the Joint Council of Examination Boards and enforced by each of the awarding bodies.

I have already informed the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Department for Education and Employment and the relevant examination boards of our difficulties, but as yet have received little practical help or advice to assist us in managing this very demanding exam season.

Lorna Young Examination Officer, The Sixth Form College, Colchester

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