Taking responsibility for the exam officer's contribution!


After last week’s Enewsletter which referenced the EOA chair's comments on how her centre deals with Access Arrangements (AAs), highlighting the need for JCQ documents to reflect what does need to happen in centres if students are not going to be put at risk by the system. Some of the feedback generated seemed to demonstrate a very historic and uncompromising position.


Some were saying, without question, that all aspects of AAs, should be totally in the hands of SENCOs. It was their total responsibility from start to finish. In contrast many members, felt that it was impossible for AAs to be delivered effectively unless exam office staff are fully involved appropriately. Many stated that it was just common sense to be involved in this process, and that it reflected good practice in most centres across the country.


1. The responsibility of Academic staff and SENCOs

Let’s be clear about what the JCQ publications focus on. They state that all centres should submit requests directly to exam bodies and/or through the AA online system based upon the following criteria. It is the responsibility of academic staff to make requests which is supported by appropriate documentation generated through SENCOs expertise. That information is held as evident to support the ‘normal way of working’ and is then presented to JCQ inspectors visiting their centre.


2. The responsibility of Exams Office staff as stated in their job descriptions.

It is their job to deliver AA on the day. To do that effectively exams office staff need to be fully aware of what is required and how best to deliver it, in the interests of their students while at the same time maintaining the security and creditability of the exam system. Academic and SENCO staff do not globally attend every exam or oversee the delivery of AAs on the exam day.


So why do some people imply through the JCQ documentation that SEN staff are taking over all the responsibility of that aspect of the process. It just does not happen in reality in mainstream schools, but it can happen in specialist schools and colleges because they are set up to operate that way. From collecting requests, to admin. (putting the AAO on the system), through to exams delivery on the day. In such centres, SENCOs can be also exam officers and supportive teaching staff all rolled into one.


3. Therefore, whose responsibility is it to record these requests especially on the AAO system?

Surely, this is a team activity which lies with each centre. It is the head of centre who has employed their teaching staff, SENCOs and exams office staff to agree a process and make sure it is delivered appropriately, so their centre and teh exam system is not compromised. The responsibility for the management of centre staff and how they interact lies with the centre surely, taking appropriate advice and guidance from the documentation provided.


If a centre had a large SENCO community which was totally up-to-date with all aspects of the exam system then they might readily carry out the collection of requests from academic staff, do the tests and enter the information on the AAO system. In turn they may hold the material in their office and be on site when an inspector asks for them. They may even be on site watching over and supporting students during the exam period.


In reality many centres do not have resident SENCOs or have such overstretched teams that they do not have the time or the expertise to do all the administration on AAs; nor can they be available on tap for inspectors to meet on exam days because they have to cover numerous sites: nor can they have on tap the documentation requested because they do not have their own office in each centre they support.


So who can make sure that all exam activity is carried out effectively and securely, clearly it must be good well trained exam office staff. It is their office that JCQ inspectors knock on on the day of an exams. It is the exam office staff who need to know how the AAs system operates and be aware of the documentation, not just for an inspector, so he/she can tick off a form on behalf of JCQ members, but to store it and have it available to support staff and students on the day of the exam. This process should be operated in the interests of student welfare and not just another exam system exercise associated with exam administration.


4. Let’s not use the JCQ publications as an excuse to avoid our responsibilities

Some exam office staff may feel they can wash their hands of all responsibly for AAs, but sadly, this is based upon dealing with this process as just another administrative exercise. However, in general most exam office staff are fully committed to following this process through for all their students and only ask that academic staff, SENCOs and the JCQ take responsibility for their part in the AAs process so the exam office community can, with confidence, take responsibility for their contribution in this process. These students deserve just as much respect and support as any other student entering the system and must not be seen as an additional burden.


In conclusion everyone agrees that the responsibility for operating AAs effectively in all centres should be distributed across the expertise within centres. That is the responsibility of the head of centre and the SLT team to make that happen.


It is therefore the responsibility of government, Ofqual and the JCQ to provide the infrastructure, resources and clarity to allow all centre staff to do their job and not continue to micro managing centres, through various guidelines, over which they really have limited control and implementation on a day-to-day basis. The only solution, to secure a more effective AAs process is to help develop a professional exam office centre workforce, around all the existing expertise, which is trusted and respected to deliver this process more effectively.