As I stand down as the CEO of the EOA after 20 years I thought I would reflect on what we as an organisation and community have achieved; on what we have learned over the years and how those experiences might help and guide a new generation of exams officers in the future.

"The EOA has made its mark thanks to all the great work by its members. Finally, after years of lobbying the JCQ are responding to our requests for better communications, documentation and consultation on all its processes and procedures. The measure of its success will be how all this will be shared so exams officers feel they are much more engaged and proactive in an exams system that depends on their goodwill. One welcomes the commitment by the government regulator OfQual and one must encourage them to use their powers so the full value of the work of exams officers are fully realised and promoted across the whole education and exams sector".

1. Created a professional organisation - the first of its kind in the UK and the world.

When the setting up of a representative organisation was first muted there were many ‘Doubting Thomas’, mainly from within the established exam officer community itself saying - “ … there will never be a professional body to represent the exams officer community.. it’s a pipe dream” – As a practising exams officer I quickly began to understand how important this role was to the education and exams sector and that there was a need to do something about it and prove all these cynics wrong. That was 20 years ago and the EOA is still here today!

These exams officers who worked hard to create the EOA had the courage to stand up for the community they believed in. They valued their position and treasured it. They did feel ignored and downtrodden at the time but there was a belief that as a united community they could now talk more effectively to their main stakeholders, namely government and the exam bodies, under one banner. They no longer could be picked off by the established system as individual isolated centres. They had a 'voice at the exams table!

2. Created a self-governing registered charity for its community

With determination and a will to make things work so many exam officers and supporters across the education and exams sector helped create this community and gave it purpose and direction. That second milestone was the setting up as registered charity and the election of trustees from within the exams officer community, truly reflecting its independence from government and the exams body control – ‘run by exams officers for exam officers’.

3. Created the first website for exams officers with a full range of products & services

The isolated world of the exams officer which the EOA exposed was no longer an option. The world of the exams officer was for all to see through their new EOA website. This role was no longer being ignored by the wider education and exams sector or the general public. A whole range of products and services were created to help support the exams officer community with a window to show the world what it did and the invaluable role this community played in supporting learners on their educational journey.

4. Created the first library of resources to support the exams officer community

Amidst the constant evolution of the EOA website because of the problems created in its original set up through government funding and choice, the EOA did mange to set up a library of resources for documents and support material, which was secured from members across the UK and abroad (the EOA worked closely with the British Council which has centres in 93 countries around the world) and shared openly, in order to encourage and promote good practice.

Some of this library resource which this community helped create in the first place has now been high jacked by a commercial entity and is being resold back to the exams officer community with their branding. As in keeping with our cooperative agreement with government, the EOA developed the Exams Oracle and now offers all these resources as part of an exams management tool to centres at a fraction of the cost. Why should this community pay for resources it already owns and/or should get in return for the fees paid for products and services provided through existing exams providers.

5.The EOA created a two-way communication channel between establishment and the exams officer community

A series of events and activities run by the EOA brought all stakeholders face to face with the exams officer community and these were followed up by articles, blogs, press releases and debates on the EOA forums, once the only grass roots source for peer help and support until the arrival of social media which if used in appropriately, can generate misinformation and confusion to the uninitiated.

The most successful regional support team format was created by AQA, thanks to the advice and help from the EOA in 2002 who had been monitoring the original EOA website forum setup in 2000. This format was then copied by the National Assessment Agency (NAA) through a multi-million-pound investment from government with one of its objectives to set up local networks on behalf of the EOA community.

Some of these groups still survive today, but many have gone, and with them when many of the exams officers who ran them due to the constant problem with churn in the workforce. These groups believed it was important to get away from a format that was just driven by exam body agendas and try and encourage greater ownership and self-support at a local level.

With the demise of the EOA networks over recent years, which is about to be reversed, many exam officers have defaulted back to the very exams body driven format their predecessors reacted against because some felt they were always being ‘talked at’ and’ down to’ promoting a culture driven by fear. Again some well established exam officers feel nothing has changed but it has. There has been and still is a plaform through the EOA to have meaningful discussions with exam bodies and take the oportunity to draw a line under all thsi unhelpful historic rhetoric.

7. Created its own professional development programme

As with the creation of the EOA there was nothing but cynicism and reticule over the idea of promoting a programme which would raise the professional status of exams officers. A communication crossed my desk from the NAA in 2003 stating that by removing the role from teaching exam officers the government would save so much money in centres by employing low level non-teaching exams staff.

This perception was reinforced through the NAA modernisation programme (2004-7) and is still being promoted by non-teaching unions with the blessing of certain entities that proport to represent the exam officer community, when in fact all they are doing is turning the clock back and are helping to recreate the very environment which sparked the creation of the EOA in 1999.

The request to create a professional programme was from exam officers themselves who demanded professional recognition and respect for the role they felt was vital to the successful delivery of the public exam system. Many felt that they could not achieve any parity with the rest of the education and exams community unless they developed their own qualified professional workforce.

Today, hundreds of exam officers have undertaken related training and qualifications to enhance their role and professional status. Thanks to a fantastic tutor/mentor team drawn from the exam officer ranks that programme will continue through the St Marys University and Industry Qualification programmes, but only if exam officers believe in their own destiny as a community who want to operate and be seen as professionals within this very authoritarian culture.

8. Created the first exams officer SEND service

When I first took on the role of an exams officer with my teaching duties, I had knew little or nothing about Special Educational Needs and the original documents issued by the JCQ to cover the Access Arrangements process were just a few pages at the back of the ICE booklet. Now times have changed and all one hears from various quarters is how the whole Access Arrangements process is out of control and unsustainable. I totally agree if one tries to deal with the present process as we have done for many years.

Historically, like many exams officers, I felt the system was broken and it was all the fault of the exams bodies and their JCQ driven Access Arrangement process. Having spent the last four years arguing the toss over this process with OfQual and the JCQ, especially over their documentation it has become clear that the problem is not with the documentation, which has improved over the years, but with the system itself.

By handing over the Access Arrangements process to teachers who know the needs of their students and letting the exams bodies focus on delivering good high-quality exams and assessments everyone would be in a much better place. But before such a major step is taken in education the EOA has developed a closer bond with SEND specialists to support this community in centres which will give exams officers a greater insight into the teaching and learning needs of SEND students undertaking public exams.

9. The creation of an External Candidate Service

When I became a teaching exams officer and spoke to my fellow officers the key focus was on getting the system to recognise the scale of the job and that it needed resourcing effectively. As a teacher I never felt marginalised and ignored because I had the backing of the whole teaching profession. That all changed in 2003 and suddenly this workforce which the EOA was representing had no establishment backing, apart from the support being offered by government and the exams body community, which was more about compliance and control and not professional development.

For 20 years I have felt, instead of spending ones time trying to make things better for all concerned, I like my fellow exams officers have had to waste so much time and money on lobbying for recognition, appropriate training (the EOA were the first to create the exam officer programme for new and experienced exam officers which was copied by the NAA and is now part of the offering from various providers) and a voice in the system.

There is another group of people who might feel hard done by and these are the 86,000 students who for whatever reason are being marginalised by the education and exam system. Many exam officers might be saying well what has this got to do with us. At a government select committee it was pointed out how important exams officers were in established centres and it was they who hold the key to helping this disenfranchised community.

Exam officers are often told not to support any applications from external candidates but without our help these students are being abandoned by the very system the exam officer community are asked to support, no questions asked. Exam officers do have power and expertise and if they used it in this context, they could help so many displaced students and earn some extra cash for their centre. Taking on their plight is demonstrating that exam officers are not just functionaries serving what some see as a faceless education and exam system, but are making a real difference in people’s futures.

10. What is the legacy left behind?

As one exams officer put it in her very courteous email - “Twenty years is a very long time to have been leading the EOA and I hope you’re proud of everything you’ve achieved. You always put such a lot of effort into making the role of Exams Officer a credible one and thanks to your initiative there are a lot of qualified exams officers out there!”.

On that note, if I have one moment that stands out in all my 20 years of dealing with this community it was having the honour to attend the presentation of Janet Martin's MBE at Buckingham Palace for her services to the EOA exams officer community. To me, Jan embodied everything that the EOA was all about. Guts, determination, professionalism and total commitment to her role, as a teacher, exams officer and EOA CPD manager.

I can remember exams officers continually moaning about this community never getting acknowledged for the important work they do. Well this is yet another myth around the EOA achieving nothing for exams officers, that needs to be kicked into touch, once and for all. That time has come again to say, its about time someone from the existing exam officer ranks stood up and took on Janet's mantle. There are some fantastic people out there but actions speak louder than words! Its easier to just turn away and give up on all this, but if you beleive in waht you do and who you are doing it for, then, as a community make your mark now!

I have been so fortunate to work with some very special people and while there are so many I could mention here Karen Boothman, who was there from the very start of the EOA has been a rock when things got tough, and Julie Short (Scalby School) one of the many practitioners, who chaired the EOA and was truly inspirational to me and still is a role model for anyone wishing to make a contribution to the future of thsi community.

I will be still around working in the background on various projects and supporting individuals and organisations where I can, so please keep in touch.

It’s all there, the new EOA international, ready and waiting for a new generation who believe in themselves and this fantastic role they have taken on as exam officers.

I wish everyone every success in the future and hope you all get your 'deserved results'!

Andrew Harland (Founder and ex-CEO of the EOA)

Contact from September 2019: [email protected]