The morning of the exam arrives and, no matter how prepared everyone feels, because of the importance of the event, there is still a nervousness that something may go wrong. Whether it be GCSE or Functional Skills, students are nervous and want to get into the exam hall and begin their exam as soon as they can. They pile towards the seating plan on the door and eagerly look to see where they have been placed (this usually resembles opening time at a Black Friday sales event, before staff jump in and attempt to restore order).
At the centre of this enormous mass, there is one person giving directions, like a conductor to an orchestra. From the centre of the students, and throughout the corridor, hallway or class, they can clearly be heard as they deliver instructions to individual students.
‘You’re in seat A14 Liam… Yes, Michael, I’ve got your blue overlay… No, you won’t be sat near Sarah, Shannon. I’ve put you at the back… No Molly, you’re in a smaller room upstairs… David. Phone off. Now.’
The exams officer.
Exams officers are like parachutes – when you do need one, it will likely save your life.
Ever present in all sectors of education, and regularly overlooked when praise is given on results day, the role of the exams officer is to make sure that everything runs smoothly behind the scenes. From arranging coloured and oversized exam papers and overlays, to regularly meeting tight deadlines and completing a rain forest of administrative paperwork, much of an exams officers job is to ensure that rules are followed that most in education aren’t even aware exist.
Working closely with all practitioners and support staff, the exams officer has a unique overall view of any school or college. They not only have an extremely close working relationship with the data team, but hold a range of information on students which could impact any exam.
A student with a behavioural problem? The exams officer is aware, and knows exactly how to handle the student. A student with anxiety about the exams hall? Never fear – the exams officer will make arrangements for a smaller room or let the student enter the exam hall first, to calm them down.
Because of the nature of their role, the highest standards are always followed: any mistakes can not only seriously disadvantage students, but also carry the threat of an inspection from the Joint Council for Qualifications (which, if failed, can lead to fines and a ban on exams being taken in the school/ college).
With an almost supernatural ability to know when a phone is in a pocket or turned on, they scour the exam hall for any water bottle with a label, any non-standard issue calculator or any student careless enough to leave their coat on the back of their chair.
This isn’t to say that managing students is their only talent. They offer invaluable training to all staff and often become a link between pastoral and academic teams, as well as managing a heavy workload and skilfully delegating work within their own team.
This (and the respect all staff have for the exams officer) is also evident whilst in the centre of the students outside of the exam hall: ‘John, Michael isn’t here yet - go and ring him and tell him he needs to come in. Emily – have you got another radio? Tell upstairs we need some more black pens. Tell David to bring one more blue overlay, just in case. And hurry up!’
Also, as any manager will tell you, it is vital to remain on good terms with your exams officer as they give invaluable insight into any team. They can reliably tell you who best fills in exam entry paperwork and access arrangements to the point of giving an overall picture of how well staff know their students. With feedback also available on student attitude and performance within exams, they are an important cog in any college machine.
And back to exam day. Liam is sat in the correct row; Michael has his blue overlay; Sarah is no longer sat near Shannon; Molly is in her smaller room and David’s phone is very much turned off. With the meticulous planning (starting as soon as previous exams finish) students are quietly reassured, ushered towards seats and provided with a host of stationary and other arrangements.
Whether it be with emails, cakes, biscuits, doughnuts, ‘thank you’ cards or all of the above, this exams season, remember to celebrate the unsung heroes of your school or college and be grateful to the exams officers – who make sure every student is catered for, no matter their need.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of English and maths at Tyne Coast College. He has previously worked as an English teacher and Head of Department in KS3/4 and tweets @jonnykayteacher. He also regularly blogs at www.thereflectiveteacher.co.uk.