CEO Message - February 2023: The impact of industrial action by teachers upon the examination system

With the announcement of industrial action within the teaching sector in coming weeks, and possibly months, it is important to consider the impact that this may have upon the examination system in the build up to, during, and after the summer exams series.

Although the exams officer is the key individual in the management, administration and conducting of examinations, teaching staff also play a key part in this process. Without information from teaching staff, it is very difficult, almost impossible, for an exams officer to fully perform their role. For example, the task of submitting examination entries can only be undertaken once specific subject information is received from teaching staff.

Therefore, it is important that the head of centre/senior leaders undertake an analysis of how any industrial action from teaching staff may impact examinations within their centre.

Below are some areas which should be considered, and addressed, where teaching/subject staff play a significant role, and consequently, where their absence in the coming weeks/months may impact upon examinations:


Firstly, it is important to recognise the significance of two documents which are designed for the very purpose of supporting centres in overcoming the impact of any disruption. It is a JCQ requirement for every exam centre to have an up-to-date Examination Contingency Plan and Escalation Process. Centres should refer to these to guide them through situations where the absence of a ‘key’ member(s) of staff is impacting upon the delivery of examinations.

Examination Contingency Plan

The centre’s Examination Contingency Plan is required to examine potential risks and issues that could cause disruption to the exams process and outline actions/procedures to be invoked in case of disruption to mitigate the impact these disruptions may have on the exam process.

The centre’s plan should confirm the actions to be taken by the centre’s senior leadership team in the event of an emergency – this includes staff absence or if the centre is unavailable for examinations, or on results day, owing to an unforeseen emergency.

Escalation Process

The Escalation Process clarifies the member(s) of staff to whom an issue/key questions will be escalated in the event of the absence of the head of centre or the member of senior leadership with oversight of examination administration and responsibility for implementing JCQ regulations and requirements relating to after examinations. This could also include the escalation process if a subject lead/head of department is absent at a time when student and/or subject information is required.

NAEO recommendation: Refer to your Exam Contingency Plan/Escalation Procedure if the absence of teaching staff will impact upon exams in your centre. If this information is not currently included within these documents, ensure that they are added as a matter of urgency

Examination entries

Although the deadline for submitting GCE and GCSE examination entries for the summer exams series is 21 February, all exams officers are fully aware that it is good practice to ensure that exam entry information is submitted to the awarding body well in advance of this date. Ideally, all entries should have been made at least a week prior to the 21 February deadline to allow for a period of contingency in the event of any unforeseen circumstances.

In light of the proposed action to be taken by some teaching staff, the NAEO strongly advises all exams officers to acquire the relevant exam entry information from teaching colleagues as soon as possible. Failure to do so may result in late or very late entry fees* which may have a significant impact upon the centre’s budget.

NAEO recommendation: As an immediate priority, exams officers should acquire exam entry information from subject staff and submit GCE and GCSE exam entries to the relevant exam board(s) well ahead of the 21 February deadline.

Entry withdrawals and amendments

Following the entry deadline date, there is a ‘window of opportunity’ when centres may withdraw a candidate from an examination or amend a candidate’s entry/entries without incurring penalty fees. Centres should note the following deadlines:

  • AQA & Pearson – From 22 April onwards, withdrawals will not be refunded and charges will apply for amendments made to GCE and GCSE entries
  • OCR – From 22 April onwards, charges will apply for amendments made to GCE and GCSE entries, and withdrawals of GCE entries will not be refunded

From 22 March onwards, withdrawals of GCSE entries will not be refunded

  • EDUQAS – From 19 March onwards, withdrawals will not be refunded and charges will apply for amendments made to GCE and GCSE entries

In almost all cases, the decision to withdraw a candidate or amend their entry can only be made by the relevant subject teacher, and therefore, it is imperative that this information is submitted to the exams officer in good time to ensure that no additional or unnecessary costs are incurred.

NAEO recommendation: Once exam entries are submitted, exams officers should contact all relevant teaching staff to confirm the internal deadline for submitting withdrawal and amendment information. The internal deadline should be set well in advance of the awarding body deadlines to allow for internal tasks to be completed.

Vocational qualifications information

Not only is it the responsibility of teaching staff to manage internal assessments in relation to vocational qualifications, but they must also submit key information to their exams officer to forward to the relevant awarding body.

The failure to supply this information was one of the reasons why a significant number of students studying for a vocational qualification did not receive their grade on results day last year.

NAEO recommendation: Exams officers should research the key deadline dates for the submission of information relating to vocational qualifications. They should meet with staff teaching vocational qualifications and confirm the information which must be submitted and the deadline by which this must be submitted to the exams officer.

Exam time

In reality, teaching staff have minimal contact with the running of exams during an exams series. The exams officer, supported by their line manager (who should be a member of the SLT) and invigilators, will ensure that exams are successfully delivered on a day-to-day basis during the summer series.

However, there will be instances where teaching staff will be required to resolve issues. For example, a maths teacher may have to confirm the tier for a candidate on an exam day, or an English teacher may have to answer questions over examination materials such as set texts. In fact, teachers across all subjects may be required to confirm an error on the examination paper, or a query from a candidate.

There are also subjects – for example, Art - where it is recommended for a teacher to be present/act as the invigilator during the examination to give technical assistance to an individual candidate.   

Centres should consider who will answer such questions or fulfil relevant roles if a subject teacher is not available on an exam day.

NAEO recommendation: Exams officers should highlight the role played by teachers on an exam day with their line manager and devise contingencies to ensure that any issues which may arise can be addressed. It may be that members of SLT who teach a particular subject are prepared to address any questions about the question paper (e.g. an error highlighted by a candidate, but not identified by an awarding body’s erratum notice).

Results and Post-Results

Not only do JCQ regulations require senior members of teaching staff to play a key part once results are issued to candidates, but this also extends to advice and guidance through the post-results process.

Section 5.13 of JCQ’s General Regulations for Approved Centres publication states that ‘the centre will ensure that senior members of centre staff are available immediately after the
publication of results
’. This may include heads of department/teaching staff who can provide their students with the relevant advice and guidance over next steps, including access to post-results services.

NAEO recommendation: Exams officers should highlight the JCQ requirement detailed above to their line manager and ask that a contingency s devised if relevant members of staff are not available immediately after the publication of results to support candidates.


Although an exams officer – supported by their line manager – has responsibility for the successful delivery of examinations within their centre, the evidence as detailed above confirms that there are defined areas where teaching staff are required to provide information, confirmation, advice and guidance. Therefore, it would be incorrect to assume that the absence of teaching staff as a result of industrial action would have no impact on examinations within a centre. However, this can be minimised and mitigated with forward planning and by immediate actions taken by the exams officer and senior leadership team to ensure that there is adequate mitigation against any issues which may occur.

Further information:

*These fees refer to GCE and GCSEs delivered by AQA, OCR, Pearson and Eduqas. Click the link for individual awarding body exam entry fee information or see The Exams Office Deadlines for entries, fees and charges template

Department for Education: Handling strike action in schools (Guidance for school leaders, governing bodies and employers)

Ofqual: What schools, colleges and other centres should do if exams or other assessments are seriously disrupted

JCQ: FAQs – Contingency arrangements, January 2023 exam series


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