Maidstone makes its mark


Eighteen members of the Maidstone and Malling exam officers’ network group met at the West Kent Health Needs Education Centre to discuss the issues and concerns of their local community, especially in the light of all the changes taking place in exams and education environment. The group was chaired by Tony Galbraith exams officer at St. Augustine Academy).


This group had been created under the old NAA CSO modernisation programme when it was agreed with the EOA that this very important development would help facilitate a more self reliant, confident and proactive exams office community. This group’s on going success is evidence of where that approach has been successful and will be part of a lasting legacy from that period.  


There are over 100 such groups listed on the EOA website alongside the AQA regional support meetings. Depending on commitments it does vary across the country whether AQA representatives will attend these independent exam office led meetings. On this occasion AQA it appears, declined the groups invitation but it was good to see a representative from OCR who while filling in everyone in on what OCR had to offer in terms of products and services, updated everyone on the JCQ changes.


The big topic on the agenda was CIE; CIE being the international arm of Cambridge Assessment and its increased presence in the domestic market through its iGCSE courses. The biggest concern was how could CIE operate in the domestic market while not complying with the existing JCQ structure and practices to which everyone adheres to? The reassurance from the OCR representative was that CIE were aware of the difficulties and that there would be a greater onus on CIE to comply with the needs of domestic centres, given time.


As CIE has been set up to deal with the international market it has different deadlines, timetables and guidelines. Added to the issues over clashes, some exam office staff were missing dates and not complying with CIE practices and procedures because they fell outside the accepted JCQ model of practice.


Another major issue discussed was the practice by Capita SIMS of issuing patches to their MIS system a few weeks before results were issued when many centres are closed. But behind the late release is the fact Capita SIMs cannot release its updates until the government, Ofqual and the awarding bodies have agreed to the final format on results releases. So is this just a question of bad timing or are there more deep seated procedural issues which lie with government, and are beyond the control of exam office staff in centres.


The problem is when all those patches come out; most centres are shut and/or have no staff around to make sure everything is working, and ready for when centres reopen on results days. Despite this continual problem most centres seem to survive and get by, but is that good enough, and can the exam system continue to exist on lots and lots of good will.


So well done Maidstone. A very vibrant, highly professional and thoughtful group who are so supportive and helpful to colleagues and worth getting in touch with if you live nearby or just want to start up your own local network group, and need a helping hand. And do not forget all Network Group leaders get Free Membership of the EOA while in post.