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Testing Times: An Examination of Schools' Obligations to Provide Exam Services

on Tuesday, 08 May 2018.

We regularly hear about the pressures on teachers to deliver good exam results and about the effects on them of 'hyper accountability' for lofty parental aspirations.

This is perhaps most sharply felt in independent fee paying schools where parents are also consumers demanding maximum 'bang for their buck' and exam results are a tangible end product.

Psychologist Donald T Campbell theorised that "the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

It is perhaps inevitable therefore, according to 'Campbell's Law', that while exam results are such a prominent measure of educational success, there will be an increased focus and pressure on maximising outcomes. This appears to be borne out by figures published by Ofqual earlier this year, which show that both centre-led challenges to exam marks and instances of exam malpractice are increasing. At the same time we have noticed a greater demand for pre and post exam support services than ever before, including applications for access arrangements and special consideration and an increase in the number of complaints and legal challenges relating to an alleged failure to deliver these effectively.  

While this is an interesting discussion of itself, it also presents an operational challenge for schools who may now be forced to spend more of their time dealing with pre and post exam services and, for some, in managing centre led investigations into exam malpractice, whether by pupils or staff.

The JCQ and awarding body guidance can be difficult to follow, and the consequences of getting this wrong can be serious, in terms of outcomes for pupils, the school's relationship with parents, the welfare of its staff and its reputation.

With exam season rapidly approaching it is perhaps timely to ask whether your school is prepared to meet this challenge? Have you mapped the various deadlines and procedures for applications for access arrangements and special consideration applying to different exams and awarding bodies? Have you communicated these to staff, pupils and parents effectively? Are you confident engaging with them about these processes? Do you know what constitutes malpractice, when and how to report it, or how to run an effective centre-led malpractice investigation while supporting staff and pupils affected and maintaining your rights to pursue related disciplinary matters? Have you considered confidentiality and data protection considerations and any conflicts of interest (for example where a member of staff is also an examiner for an exam board)?

As pupils are reminded of the value of good preparation, schools too should take timely steps to ensure that they prepare for and deliver the exams themselves and related exam services. Such preparations should include appropriate training and supervision of exam staff to ensure they understand the school's and pupils' responsibilities; risk assessment of exam operations to reduce the risk of inadvertent or deliberate malpractice; and should extend to guidance to pupils and their parents about exam services before and after results day so that they are clear about how the school can support pupils and, perhaps more importantly, what it cannot do, in order to manage expectations.  

For more information, Tabitha Cave on 0117 314 5381 or James Garside on 0117 314 5639 in our Employment Law team.  

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