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It’s about time we considered the ‘Wellbeing’ of the exam officer community?

 

The World Health Organisation definition links health explicitly with wellbeing and conceptualises health as a human right requiring physical and social resources to achieve and maintain. 'Wellbeing' refers to a positive rather than neutral state, framing health as a positive aspiration.

 

The education press is full of articles about the ‘Wellbeing’ of teachers and students and have referenced the growing rise in mental health problems associated with exam stress.

 

The following symptoms taken from the NHS are listed below and are referenced in the present iEOA survey. Are you experiencing some of these symptoms?

 

How you may feel emotionally - overwhelmed, irritable and "wound up", anxious or fearful, lacking in self-esteem. How you may feel mentally - racing thoughts, constant worrying, difficulty concentrating, difficulty making decisions. How you may feel physically - headaches, muscle tension or pain, dizziness, sleep problems, feeling tired all the time, eating too much or too little. How you may behave - drinking or smoking more, snapping at people, avoiding things or people you are having problems with.

 

The iEOA attended a recent Education Select Committee at Westminster which featured an excellent report produced by the Education Support Partnership, on 'Teacher Wellbeing' (October 2018). It became clear that some of the feedback in this report inferred that a teacher community under stress, may not always respond to their exam officer colleagues appropriately over various exam processes and practices.

 

The most common complaint by exam officers over 18 years of research by the iEOA was the breakdown in communication at critical times between what must be, a more stressed teaching and exams officer community. 

 

In the present iEOA survey there is a question focusing on the ‘Wellbeing’ of the exam officer community. For many years exams officers have fed back on this issue in various surveys but the focus was always on their need to serve the system and not on their personal welfare. There has been no in-depth research on the potential damage caused by excessive stress on this community and how this is leading to the growing ‘churn’ in the workforce over the past 18 years.

 

As one exams officer put it -” I am expected to act like a robot over policing exams processes…but I have to look teachers, students and parents in the eye and respond to their requests ... we are people who have feelings, and are not robots or sheep which the system appears to think are expendable... ”. What has been sadly lacking is a greater focus on the welfare of this community and the individuals within it and this survey question is the start of a broader programme of personal support from the iEOA. 

 

For too long the focus on helping and supporting the exam officer community has been, externally driven and focused only on the welfare of the exam system. When the EOA was created back in 2000 it thought one of its key roles was to support this objective by galvanising a cooperative workforce that served the welfare of the exam system. Therefore, much of the  ‘so called’ support has been system driven, with the emphasis on only providing activities that help the community deliver their role with no responsibilty to the workforce that are expected to operate and impliment the public exam system in centres.

 

Symptoms of stress can affect how you feel emotionally, mentally and physically, and also how one behaves. The need to address ‘Wellbeing’ in the education sector should include this community but the only way we can qualify and quantify this problem affecting this community is to start confronting the ‘state of mind of our community’.

 

We need to define what is causing all the stress and anxiety; implement solutions in agreement with  the education and exams stakeholder community and encourage ‘Wellbeing’ across the whole sector.  The students being served will pick up and be affected by the stress being passed on from those who are supposed to be there to support them. If we can therefore do more to address staff needs in this area, students will benefit across the sector.  

 

If you have any feedback to share on your situation, in confidence, please email the iEOA office at ieoa.office@examofficers.org.uk or call 0118 975 8552 – the iEOA  - ‘it’s here for YOU’