04 Sep 2021
Following the release of GCE and GCSE results during the same week this August, there has been some discussion amongst exams officers and teaching staff over this model of delivering results beyond summer 2021.
It is easy to understand why such a change seems a logical step moving forward. For example, in centres which deliver GCE and GCSE qualifications, senior leaders and teaching staff would only need to be on hand during one week in August, rather than two, and if GCSE results day was brought forward to the same week as the publication of GCE results then all administrative tasks could be undertaken earlier to allow more time for the processing of post-results enquires.
However, there are several reasons why the NAEO would not be in favour of altering the calendar to accommodate GCE and GCSE results within the same week.
In the context of the exceptional arrangements for summer 2021, it was understandable why and how a 'double results day' within one week was put in place to support the grading and awarding process. However, in a 'business as usual' exam year/summer series, there would be serious concern that similar arrangements may introduce risk into the system.
The preparation for, and delivery of, a results day and the management of subsequent post-results services enquiries (Reviews of Results, Appeals and Access to Scripts) across both GCE and GCSEs would be a very difficult and involved process to manage in one week which may lead to the following issues:
- Errors in administration – both in disseminating results and when collecting and submitting post-results services requests
- Centres engaging in malpractice as they fail to/are unable to adhere to JCQ regulations
- An unacceptable level of workload for exams officers and senior leaders with overall responsibility for examinations within a centre
- The requirement for significant contingency measures to be put in place in the event of the absence of the exams officer
- Pressure placed upon new exams officers who are unfamiliar with the processes involved in disseminating examination results
Let us consider a 'standard' exam year/results day.
The day prior to the publication of results to candidates – the restricted release day - is a very busy day for exams officers (and for senior staff where they may be in centre during this time), with several tasks to undertake including accessing/importing results, preparing results for issue to candidates, analysing results and resolving any issues or anomalies.
Following the release of results to candidates, the following days are dominated with candidates considering post-results services. With regard to GCEs, candidates will be looking to submit priority post-results services as university places may depend on the outcome of a review. For exams officers in centres which deliver GCEs and GCSEs, this may pose severe issues.
If an exams officer is dealing with questions about results and requests for post-results services for GCEs on the day(s) following results publication, but are then also expected to download, publish and deal with questions and post-results services requests in relation to GCSE at the same time, this could lead to requests to awarding bodies made in error, or missed, or handled incorrectly due to other tasks which would need to be undertaken during the same week.
Then there is the issue of workload – for exams officers in particular, but also senior leaders who have overall responsibility for examinations within their centre. There is no doubt that significant pressure, and an excessive workload, would be placed upon exams officers in centres which deliver GCE and GCSE qualifications if results for both were disseminated during the same week. The situation should also be considered in light of the lack of additional administrative support for exams officers within schools where only 6.7% have the advantage of an exams assistant/administrative support.
We must also consider the impact upon new exams officers who will not have previously experienced a results day(s). As we detect another very significant 'churn' within the exams officer community, and the appointment of a significant number of new exams officers, we are aware from experience that managing a results day for the first time is one of the biggest challenges for any new exams officer, so to expect them to deliver a 'double results day' within a week may prove difficult and beyond them. We should also consider that existing exams officers have not delivered a ‘business as usual’ summer series results day since 2019, so even those familiar with the role may find a return to normality difficult, let alone coming to terms with a process which requires even greater organisation and preparation.
Finally, we come on to the issue of contingency. JCQ regulations require that:
‘…members of the senior leadership team to act immediately in the event of an emergency or staff absence (with a plan in place) to reinforce procedures in the event of the centre being unavailable for examinations, or on results day, owing to an unforeseen emergency.’
(General Regulations, section 5.3x)
Therefore, centres would need to plan for the absence of their exams officer (and very often there is only one exams officer in a centre with no additional formal support) during the proposed results week. Not only could this place many centres in a difficult position where those covering the role are unaware of the process/systems/regulations, which increase the possibility of the replacement engaging in malpractice. Whether unintentional or not, this would also require centres to fully train another member of staff in one of the most significant and complex aspects of examination administration.
A survey conducted by The Exams Office in 2020 revealed that 64% of centres deliver GCE and GCSE qualifications, so a decision to move results days for both into the same week would have an impact on a significant number of centres. Although the NAEO would welcome the aligning of the publication of GQ and VTQ results with GCE and GCSE results, we could not support a change which would increase risk into the examination system. We also cannot encourage a move which may lead to an increase in the cases of malpractice, and additional pressure and workload upon exams officers. For these reasons, we urge the decision makers to ensure that GCE and GCSE results days are kept apart - as they have been for many years without any issues.