Is there an invigilator crisis looming ahead of the summer exams series?
As part of the 2021 Annual Survey in October, exams officers were asked whether they expected to experience any issues in the recruitment of invigilators ahead of this summer’s exams series. At that stage, a slight majority (55%) confirmed that they were, or were likely to, experience difficulties in this area.
This week, we have revisited this question and the response from the exams officer community to the same question has altered significantly and raises serious concerns. Three months on from the Annual Survey, 92% of exams officers are now expressing concern over having an insufficient number of invigilators for this summer’s exams series.
There are several reasons why there is a lack of invigilators.
Firstly, many existing invigilators are reluctant to work in a school environment where they may be more likely to contract COVID-19. As we are aware, a significant number of invigilators are categorised within ‘vulnerable groups’ and, therefore, it is completely understandable that they have such concerns, particularly with pressure from family members urging them not to work in an environment which could introduce risk to their health.
In addition to this, after two summers without exams, many invigilators have moved on to other roles - very often roles which provide better remuneration whilst working less hours. We have been given one example where a local racecourse is paying an additional £2 to serve tea and coffee…
Exams officers have reported poor responses to advertisements and that is partly due to the hourly rate simply not being attractive enough to encourage applications. Unfortunately, due to budgetary pressures, some centres have decided to cut the hourly rate for invigilators – a move which naturally makes it even harder for exams officers to attract new applicants. One exams officer revealed that she had recruited just two invigilators since September, whilst another has received just one application to an advertisement which has been running since the start of the academic year. The situation is becoming so dire in some centres that all teaching staff are being trained in the event that they are required to invigilate this summer.
With such a shortage of invigilators, it is not surprising that there are reports of centres employing individuals who may not be ideally suited to the role – but as one exams officer explained ‘they are at least a body’. Although it is understandable that centres are making such decisions, to have an individual who is suspected as being less than ideal for the role must surely increase the risk of regulations not being appropriately applied, malpractice taking place in the examination room or situations not being dealt with in line with the regulations
The situation is also being exacerbated by the increasing number of candidates with access arrangements. Exams officers report an increasing number of candidates who need one-to-one invigilation and those experiencing mental health issues, and a growing trend of centres allowing candidates awarded 25% extra time to also have a supervised rest break. This seems to be an unintended reaction/consequence to the JCQ changing the regulation so centres have to ensure that their '…SENCo must have considered and thoroughly exhausted the option of supervised rest breaks before making an application for 25% extra time'. Some centres have identified this as an opportunity to apply for supervised rest breaks in addition to 25% extra time. This must be monitored closely, but this may be difficult as the awarding of a supervised rest break is a centre-delegated access arrangement.
Regardless of the causes, the fact remains that exams officers in a significant number of centres are experiencing serious issues in recruiting invigilators, and therefore, unless action is taken/support is made available as a matter of urgency, there may be serious issues in the conducting of examinations in many centres this summer.
The NAEO intends to raise this issue with the DfE, Ofqual and the JCQ on behalf of its members, and to offer our support to find viable solutions to support centres ahead of the summer exams series.
Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Examinations Officers