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Tables and chairs

SHA members need to be planning now for how they will handle invigilation as of September, when teachers are no longer required to cover external exams. Angela Spencer looks at schools that are turning to grandparents, governors and university students, among others, while keeping down the costs.

In principle, the majority of SHA members agree that exam invigilation, unless it involves a practical or oral test, is not a productive use of teachers' professional time.

However, in practice it presents a dilemma: if not teachers, then whom?

Who has the necessary authority to deal with unruly pupil behaviour?

Who can be trusted to adhere to the stringent exam board rules and regulations associated with invigilation?

Who would be willing to work for a flat hourly rate to ensure that costs do not go through the roof?

Parents? Governors? Support staff? Professional invigilators?

The answer, it seems, is all of the above.

Schools are drawing invigilators from all quarters to help them meet their contractual obligations.

While no two cases are exactly the same, surprisingly few SHA members have reported difficulties in managing students' behaviour or finding appropriate people to do the job.

The problems reported have been fairly low level; for instance, a pupil being removed from the examination room after trying to use a mobile phone in the presence of a non-teaching invigilator.

One or two schools have had to decline to invite individual invigilators back because they were "too loud" or "too fussy", potentially adding to students' pre-exam nerves.

But the experience of most schools seems to be that there are cost-effective, workable and sustainable solutions to exam invigilation by adults other than teachers.

Who's in charge

Walton High School in Stafford has employed external invigilators for the last three years and says recruitment has been surprisingly easy.

Assistant head Jo Rowley says: "We found there was a wide range of retired professionals looking for a challenge and a number of busy mums looking for some additional hours but not wanting to take on a full-time job.

"We have had to over-recruit as many of our invigilators can only work certain days, but we see this as a healthy situation as it can't be good for anyone to invigilate all day every day."

In the first year, the school used a mix of external invigilators with teaching staff but, says Jo, this proved a mistake as there was uncertainty about who was in charge, leading to confusion at the start of exams.

Consequently, in the second year the school moved to external invigilators only, training a small group of senior invigilators to take responsibility for specific issues and for deploying junior invigilation staff as they saw fit.

Jo says: "We don't have one large venue on site for exams; instead we rely on three or four venues, each with its own issues such as entry, noise and storage of coats.

"Because of this, we allocated senior invigilators to specific venues so that they could become experts on those rooms and develop a routine, which is important in keeping candidates as calm as possible. In the past this routine would have changed every day because there would have been different teachers at the start of each exam.

"Another benefit of having external invigilators employed by the hour, is that it's easy to cover student supervision at lunch times when there are clashes between exams. Asking teaching staff to do this was additional work for them when they have other important things to do.

"We often have to resolve clashes with AS and A2 exams by starting exams later in the day. Again, this would previously have meant asking teaching staff to work on after school.

Now we simply pay the external invigilators for the additional hours."

Training options

Like many schools, Walton High is looking to improve the quality of its invigilator training. Jo has recently started using and would recommend the training pack and video from the National Assessment Agency (see below).

"Sometimes, for instance, it can be difficult telling a retired police officer what to do," she says. "A standardised training programme will help us in that we will be seen to train and treat everyone in the same way."

A growing number of schools are tackling training by appointing exam officers to take the reins in recruiting and briefing external invigilators and organising rotas for exam cover.

At Cox Green School in Berkshire, Jean Hood has been appointed - from an administration background - as exams and cover officer, responsible for a team of six invigilators drawn from the local business community.

At Banbury School, Oxfordshire, an existing member of the support staff is employed to coordinate and supervise up to 15 external invigilators.

Following consultation and agreement, Banbury has also amended the job descriptions of several other support staff to create a core internal team capable of training additional casual invigilators where necessary.

At the 1,300-pupil Norton Hill School in Bath, head Peter Beaven has appointed a member of the teaching staff to the post of exams officer with responsibility for, among other things, training a team of up to 40 external invigilators.

Most are grandparents, parents and friends of the school, though care is taken to ensure they do not invigilate relatives.

Training includes an induction talk about the school and covers exam board rules and regulations, plus a number of 'what if' scenarios on student behaviour.

"A lot of it is very much down to common sense," says Peter. "But we need to ensure invigilators feel confident and know what to do if a candidate puts his hand up to ask a question or makes too much noise shuffling around in his seat.

"In employing invigilators we look for people who have good interpersonal skills, a calming influence and the ability to deal with things quietly. They need to be fair and they need to be vigilant."

Initial trepidation in some quarters about non-teaching staff being able to control students is proving unfounded. Peter puts this down to the fact that modern day schools have a much larger non-teaching adult population. Today's students are used to seeing parents, governors and support staff around school on a daily basis.

Having said that, Anne Welsh, head of George Stephenson School in Newcastle and last year's SHA president, feels some teaching presence is still desirable.

"We have used external invigilators from a local agency for the last four years," she says. "They have invariably been university students and happily it has been problem-free.

"We have, however, always had one teacher in the room. Teachers, particularly heads of department, can get just as anxious as students at exam time, and they actually want to be involved in order to satisfy themselves that students know what they are doing.

"Even after September, it's my belief that teachers will want to be there at the beginning and end of exams and on call throughout in case a difficulty arises."

Counting the cost

When it comes to school finances, the true cost of non-teacher invigilation has yet to be counted. The DfES and LEAs claim it need not cost schools to change invigilation because they can redeploy support staff.

However, SHA's view is that it's going to cost on average an extra £12,000 per 11-18 school per year.

Some schools are more fortunate in this area than others. Court Fields Secondary School in Somerset has in place a very cost-effective arrangement.

Here, 50 per cent of exam invigilation is carried out free of charge by the University of the Third Age (U3A) - a national trust that promotes lifelong learning and encourages community service.

For the last five years, Court Fields has been able to rely on the services of U3A, sending the organisation a list of exam dates and times and waiting for them to arrange what invigilation support they can offer.

"We are very grateful and I usually brief the invigilators at their monthly meetings as well as making our IT facilities available to them," says the school's exam officer Anne Dunton.

"Although they don't cover all our requirements and are never solely in charge, they do relieve the burden on teachers and put the school in a better position from which to adopt alternative strategies to cover the other 50 per cent."

Other schools are finding the costs are slightly more. Last year George Stephenson School paid £2,695 for external agency invigilation, including mocks and Sats.

Mindful that the premium will rise with the reduction in teacher involvement after September, the school is now recruiting its own invigilation stock rather than pay agency prices.

"If it frees up teachers to stay with students, helping them to prepare and supporting their revision to the last minute, then it's money well spent," says Anne.

"The bottom line has to be that a teacher's presence in the classroom rather than the exam room is better for the students. That's what matters. That's what it's all about."

More information

The National Assessment Agency (NAA), has produced a range of support materials for schools needing to recruit, train and manage additional invigilators.

Invigilator training packs were sent to exams officers in schools and colleges in March 2005, and include a video to show during a group training session.

To request a copy of the full invigilator training pack go to the NAA's exams office website at www.naa.org.uk/examsoffice/content/invigilation/invigilation_main.htm

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