CEO Message - June 2023 : Issues arising from the summer 2023 exam series

As we approach the mid-point of the summer 2023 exams series, it is important to consider any issues which exams officers may have experienced in the two weeks prior to the half term break.

Feedback has been collated via social media, and below are the five main areas of concern for exams officers:

  1. Parcelforce

The most frequently reported issue relates to the collection of exam scripts via the Parcelforce managed Yellow Label Service. Although the vast majority of collections are completed within the allotted time period and to a high standard by courteous drivers, in some areas of the country exams officers have reported the following issues with drivers:

  • Failing to arrive, sometimes for several days
  • Arriving outside the allocated time slot
  • Arriving after the centre has closed
  • Failing to wait for even a short period of time for scripts to be brought to reception from the secure room/facility
  • Failing to complete the necessary paperwork
  1. Support – Phone lines

A significant number of exams officers have highlighted issues with Pearson and AQA phone line support.

Long wait times (particular relating to Pearson phone support) and incorrect, or a lack of, information once an exams officer speaks to an awarding body representative are the major concerns.

However, there has been positive feedback on the phone support offered by OCR and WJEC, and in recent days, Pearson and AQA seem to have addressed the issues which they were experiencing.

The NAEO would like to thank Pearson, in particular, for accepting our feedback and implementing the following measures:

  • Recruiting and training an additional 20 specialists to support telephone queries
  • Introducing an urgent on the day of exam line to help exams officers with 'on the day of exam' priority cases
  • Utilising their knowledgeable teams across the world (that already support International customers) for overflow on phone lines during peak times
  • Additional specialists added to support the ‘live chat’ 
  • Extending opening hours during exam season to support customers at the start and end of the day
  • Looking to maintain quality and ‘first contact resolution’ where possible, ensuring that when calls are answered, this is undertaken by colleagues who are knowledgeable and can offer the necessary level of support
  • Continue to update and refine the online knowledge articles and training materials which are live, available and will help exams officer self-serve many of their queries – these can be found at:
  1. Awarding body portals

An increasing number of exams officers have commented on the differences between the awarding body portals and the increased amount of time taken to navigate each portal to find the necessary information.

There has been criticism of the timing of the launch of Pearson’s new portal and the time taken to receive the ‘one time password’ which is required to gain access as part of the new multi factor authentication (MFA) process. Although it could most certainly be argued that such an initiative should not be launched immediately before an exam series, it is also important to note that Pearson appreciate this but the decision was taken to maintain the integrity of the exam series.

The need to protect this summer’s examination papers, the integrity of our qualifications and assessments and the exam system, as well as centre and learner data is understandable.

We are pleased that Pearson recognise that the introduction of MFA has an impact on centres, and exams officers in particular, but we also understand the importance of introducing this additional security measure before the summer exams actually began.   

Pearson have provided the following key facts to explain the rationale behind their decisions:

  • Recent research by the UK government revealed that around 88% of further education institutions, and 92% of higher education colleges, suffered a breach or attack in the last 12 months. The report also highlighted that nearly half of these attacks have negatively impacted the institutions.
  • 74% of schools enable 2-step verification (2SV) for their most important accounts
  • 78% of schools said they had experienced at least one of the types of cyber security incident mentioned in the audit which means the threat is still out there.

Pearson, like all awarding bodies, are required to prioritise the security of the data provided by centres. They also have a responsibility to keep assessments secure, which protects the integrity of our qualifications. Passwords currently can be used to access both of these types of data and material. Introducing multi-factor authentication to both Edexcel Online and SharePoint (OneDrive), means that Pearson can be confident, and evidence, that learner data and assessment material is kept securely.

Pearson have also confirmed that there are zero Pearson-led issues outstanding with MFA, but they are continuing to work with each customer to help resolve any local issues wherever they can, and that a specialist ‘second line team’ has been put in place to ensure that this is done.

  1. Invigilators

Many exams officers continue to report a shortage of invigilators. The situation has been exacerbated by newly/recently appointed invigilators failing to report for their ‘invigilation slot’ or reducing their availability.

  1. Increased administration

Although it may be expected for newly appointed exams officers to be surprised by the administration/workload during an exam series, the number of experienced exams officers who are also reporting an increase in the amount of administration, or the time taken to complete tasks, is concerning. The tasks which are causing this include:

  • The increased number of access arrangements
  • Difficulty accessing/printing (AQA) address labels
  • Time taken to upload modern foreign language speaking files to awarding body portals
  • Too many ‘logs’ to complete
  • Scanning (AQA) registers


Other reported issues include:

  • Exam timetabling – core/non-core subject exams timetabled for same session 
  • Inspections – the pressure caused by the additional Pearson inspection, and some JCQ inspectors ‘misinterpreting’ the regulations
  • Head of centre/senior leaders not meeting/managing their responsibilities and being unaware of the regulations



One of the roles played by the NAEO is to acquire feedback from the exams officer community, share this with key stakeholders, and work collaboratively to find solutions which meet everyone’s needs.

Some of the issues listed above will be difficult to resolve as they are pivotal in maintaining the integrity and security of the examination system. However, the NAEO is concerned by the increasing amount of administration which exams officers are required to undertake – a situation not helped by the lack of consistency between awarding body processes and systems.

In an attempt to improve the situation, upon the completion of the summer exam series, the NAEO will be asking key stakeholders to consider ways in which the administrative burden placed upon centres and exams officers, in particular, can be reduced. Such an initiative was last launched in 2007 and led to the creation of the Access Arrangements Online tool, and although we may find little or no common ground between awarding body processes, now is the ideal opportunity to review the situation and explore all options. 

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