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Case studies

Exam preparation
Access arrangements reader and scribe scripts Facilitating private candidates briefing candidates and home educators to minimise issues Using a spreadsheet to resolve timetabling clashes Exams monitoring spreadsheet proves invaluable tool User-friendly format ensures candidates don't misread exam timetables Information packs ensure candidates are fully aware of exam procedures Colour coded seating plan indicates candidates entitled to extra time Spreadsheet created to improve system for paying invigilators Spreadsheet exams calendar helps exams officers to manage workload Form for teaching staff makes sure the exams office is kept up to date with new college courses Storage of confidential material. - Security system for GCSE science investigative skills assessments materials Digital photographs help confirm candidate ID Annotating the attendance register to generate seating plans Exam page on school website provides instant information for parents and candidates

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Access arrangements - reader and scribe scripts


Julie Donohue - Mount Carmel High, Lancashire Type of centre: 11-16 secondary Number of candidates: 786 Summary Mount Carmel High has developed special scripts that are read before the start of an exam to candidates requiring access arrangements of a reader or scribe. This is to ensure candidates understand the exact role their reader or scribe will play during their exam. Problem A number of candidates at our centre require the support of a reader or scribe during exams. Candidates with these access arrangements are often unsure of what support their reader or scribe can offer during an exam, and readers and scribes are often unsure of what they should be telling these candidates before each exam. Solution After discussing the problem with readers and scribes, we developed a script for readers and scribes to read out to candidates with these access arrangements before each exam. The scripts outline the reader or scribe's role and the level of support they can offer. Benefits The reader and scribe scripts ensure a consistent message is delivered to candidates with reader and scribe access arrangements. Candidates with access arrangements know what support to expect from their reader or scribe. Invigilators responsible for providing these access arrangements are aware of their responsibilities.

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Facilitating private candidates


Dianne Wray - William Parker Sports College, East Sussex Type of centre: 11 to 16+ Voluntary Controlled Secondary Sports College Number of candidates: 1524 Summary Dianne Wray, exams officer at William Parker Sports College in Hastings, East Sussex, took a hands-on approach to facilitate private candidates sitting GCSE exams at her centre. Problem Last year I was approached by a parent who home tutors her two children. They wished to take English, English Literature and Maths GCSE exams and she had been referred to our centre by the awarding body as one that accepts external candidates. Private candidates face possible disadvantages by sitting their exams in unfamiliar centres and can be unsure what information they need or who to contact. There is also the issue of potential disruption to the centre's schedule and processes by allowing external candidates to sit exams. Solution Our centre feels that it is important to ensure that external candidates are not disadvantaged in any way. In this instance, a hands-on approach was taken to ensure the candidates would be able to sit their exams with little stress, as well as minimal disruption to the centre's regular exams administration. I made an initial appointment for the parent and her children to visit so that we could establish whether or not our centre was the right place for them. We discussed all relevant exam details - awarding bodies, tier of entry, external candidate coursework, results day and exam fees. I also took the candidates on a tour of the site to show them the exams venues. I provided a pack of information for them containing external candidate coursework forms, entry statements and identification information, along with an invoice for entry fees and administration charges. Subsequently the students were also issued with an individual exam timetable with all the relevant information they needed to guide them through their actual exam days. Benefits Private candidates will naturally feel uneasy about being in an unfamiliar environment. When they feel well prepared, they will be more relaxed and ready to sit the exam, which also helps invigilation staff on the day. Correct briefing of private candidates prior to sitting exams can minimise the risk of issues on the day, such as candidates turning up late and causing disruptions and it also helps to relieve their anxiety. Also, meeting face to face with home educators to discuss all their requirements assists the exams officer to determine whether or not their centre is suitable for the candidates to sit their exams.

Not Protected QCDA 2010

Using a spreadsheet to help resolve timetabling clashes


Grahame Percival - Alcester Grammar School Type of centre: 11-18 secondary school Number of pupils/ students: 930 Number of candidates: GCSE - 90 GCE - 480 Summary Alcester Grammar School tackled clashes in its exams timetable by using spreadsheet technology to improve scheduling. Problem Alcester Grammar has a large 6th form of approximately 480 students. Combined with the many subjects on offer, means that exam clashes are inevitable. An example was a day when the awarding bodies scheduled exams in two popular A levels Biology and Business Studies - plus Drama, Design Technology, Human Biology and Applied Business during the morning and Mathematics was scheduled for the afternoon, making it difficult to resolve some of the mornings clashes. On that day, 54 candidates had clashes and 16 different kinds of clashes. Some candidates had three exams scheduled for the same session. Solution I print out the clash report from SIMS, noting the nature of the clashes and the number of candidates involved. I then decide which exam to schedule first and which to run later, bearing in mind the following:

do the numbers of candidates taking an exam at the scheduled start time fit into the venues available? who needs to be supervised, where and with whom, before the next exam is run? does one exam require more last-minute revision than another? In which case that exam ought to be run first does the exam involve a listening element? In which case, all the candidates probably need to be present at the regular time.

As soon as I have decided how to resolve the clashes, I enter the date, time, name of the candidate, subjects involved and proposed resolution into a spreadsheet. A copy of the list is distributed to every candidate who appears on it, with his or her name highlighted. I ask candidates to check the list carefully against the timetable and their statement of entry and emphasise that they must not contravene supervision arrangements made for them. As the examinations officer, I am usually the person who ensures supervised candidates are looked after appropriately, although sometimes additional help is required. Benefits The spreadsheet allows me to sort data by date (so that I and the invigilators know who, on any particular day, has a clash) and by name, which helps me communicate the information to the individuals concerned and the amendments can be incorporated into the timetable immediately. The system also indicates the numbers of candidates involved, so that I can prepare seating plans. By resolving the clashes at an early stage, I have plenty of time to organise overnight supervision when necessary - colleagues at my centre are very helpful in volunteering to supervise candidates. Also, I can explain the rules and ensure that forms are signed well in advance.

Not Protected QCDA 2010

Exams monitoring spreadsheet proves invaluable tool


Robert Smith - Lambeth College Type of centre: Further education Number of candidates: 21,250 Summary Lambeth College exams office adapted their systems to ensure the capture of ongoing data for over 21,000 candidates. They devised an exams monitoring spreadsheet to track all exam activities and identify imminent deadlines. Problem With more than 21,000 candidates taking a large number of courses we needed a system to monitor our highly complex exams procedure. Solution We established an exams monitoring spreadsheet to identify all the courses and qualifications that are underway at the college at the start of the year. We needed some technical advice to set up the formulae in the first instance and we had to adapt our exam office systems to ensure the capture of ongoing data. We required a good computer with a current version of Excel and we have ensured that staff are trained to use basic spreadsheets. Benefits Using the spreadsheet we can track all exam activities, (entries, internal assessment etc.). The spreadsheet automatically identifies imminent deadlines, and those that have passed without an adequate response from individual schools within the college. The exams monitoring spreadsheet is the basis for a weekly report to college management. The college's senior management team supports the initiative and takes action when the spreadsheet indicates missed deadlines. Now that the system is up and running, the benefits are very clear. Setting up the exams monitoring spreadsheet was a significant task, but has proved extremely worthwhile. Future We are currently updating the reports to show any ongoing difficulties that we need to address and to give success measures for the examinations process. Other centres should be able to adopt the system easily. It is simple to adapt the spreadsheet to incorporate different course codes and departmental structures.

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User-friendly format ensures candidates don't misread exam timetables


Victoria Kelly - Harper Green School, Bolton Type of centre: 11-16 secondary school Number of pupils/students: 1,500 Number of candidates: 320 Summary Harper Green School developed a user-friendly GCSE student timetable form to issue to candidates before their exams. Problem Until recently we supplied our candidates with timetable printouts generated by our SIMS system. Because the format was not user-friendly, candidates found them difficult to understand and sometimes misread the exam dates and times. Solution We have developed a GCSE student timetable form that we issue to candidates before their exams. We set aside a year 11 PSHE lesson to allow time for candidates to fill in the form with their exam details, including candidate number, and the date and time of each exam plus the candidate's row and seat number. When candidates have completed their forms, a member of staff checks that all the details are correct. Benefits The new format has been a great success. Candidates know exactly when their exams are and we have managed to eliminate incidents of candidates misreading their timetable. And because candidates know where they are supposed to sit for each exam, the seating process is calm and orderly.

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Information packs ensure candidates are fully aware of exam procedures


June 2008 Angela Lockett - Great Wyrley Performing Arts High School, Walsall Type of centre: 11 - 18 secondary school Number of pupils/students: 1,093 Number of candidates: 520 Summary Great Wyrley Performing Arts High School created an information pack to ensure candidates were fully aware of exam procedures. Problem Given the large quantity of information that must be imparted to candidates, I wanted to make sure that they fully understand all the documents we give them. Also, candidates often had problems distinguishing between the revision timetable and their individual timetable. Solution I decided to look at the way we distribute important information to candidates, especially with the final exam timetables. In order to make sure that all candidates have the correct information and are fully aware of all regulations, we have developed a 'pack' of information. The pack, which is issued to candidates towards the end of April, contains their individual timetable, the revision timetable, JCQ regulations and a help card giving hints and tips for before and during exams and results days. At first we distributed the packs during an assembly but it was difficult to make sure that all candidates realised the importance of the details, so I now visit each form so that I can talk to the candidates in smaller tutor groups. Benefits All exam information is kept together, in one folder, so candidates are less likely to mislay important documents. By talking to candidates in small groups I can go through each document with them, highlighting the importance of each, and candidates have the opportunity to ask questions they might have. Candidates seem to prefer this approach and will ask questions that they might not ask if they were in a larger group. I can be confident that candidates are fully aware of exam regulations.

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Colour coded seating plan indicates candidates entitled to extra time


Jane Appleton - Box Hill School, Dorking Type of centre: Independent international secondary school Number of pupils/students: 370 Number of candidates: approximately 180 Summary Box Hill School use a colour coded copy of the exam room seating plan to identify candidates who had been awarded extra time. When collecting in papers, the invigilators use the plan so that papers are not collected before the allotted time. Problem Problems can sometimes arise because schools now use external invigilators who do not know the candidates. In our school this was particularly apparent when invigilators were trying to identify candidates who had been awarded extra time. Although we post a list of the candidates' names on the board, it is time consuming to match the names to the candidates' positions in the exam room. Solution I make sure there is a special copy of the seating plan on the invigilator's desk. On this plan I highlight the candidates who have extra time (25% and 10% in different colours) and use a third colour to indicate those who are allowed to use dictionaries. When collecting in papers, the invigilators use the plan to quickly identify candidates entitled to access arrangements. Benefits Feedback from the invigilators has been really positive - they think the colour coding is a really good idea. It has eliminated all previous confusion and has speeded up exam room procedure. Extra-time candidates can be confident that their papers will not be collected before their allotted time is up.

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Spreadsheet improves system for paying invigilators


Julia Sutherland - Teignmouth Community College Type of centre: 11-19 comprehensive school Number of pupils/students: 1,069 Number of candidates: 525 Problem During the already very busy and stressful exam season all our invigilators (there are 20 in our team) submitted their pay claims at the same time. The exams officer had to double-check them all before they could be authorised by the finance officer and there was no system in place to check where pay claims were in the system or who had submitted them. Everything was done in a rush and mistakes were made. Because there was often not enough time to check all claims, we sometimes missed the finance office deadline and invigilators had to wait another month before they were paid. And because of the current claims format, the finance officer had to convert the hours worked into decimal format before pay could be calculated. We needed to set up a good system before the May national curriculum tests and the main summer exam series Solution I created an Excel spreadsheet to automatically calculate the hours worked by each invigilator. For security reasons we require invigilators to log in and out of the exams office, so it is simple for us to transfer these hours to the spreadsheet at the end of each day. Also, as each invigilator's time is recorded on a separate worksheet, we can print out personalised versions for them. The number of hours worked is automatically transferred to an overall session sheet that shows totals for each invigilator and includes details of when the claim form was submitted to the finance office. We trialled this system during the mock exams in December to check the Excel formulae worked correctly. Benefits Recording invigilator' hours now takes a maximum of five minutes per day rather than several hours. Invigilators do not need to record and calculate their hours (unless they want to check) and all claim forms are logged and tracked. The claim forms are correctly completed and properly formatted before they are submitted to the finance office. The exams office has an immediately accessible and up-to-date record of invigilator costs, which helps me with budget forecasting. We also use less paper as the only paper records we now need to keep are the logging in sheets that we have in the exams office.

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Spreadsheet exams calendar helps exams officers to manage workload


Samantha Garner - Paignton Community & Sports College Type of centre: 11-18 secondary school Number of pupils/students: 2,000 Number of candidates: 1,000 Summary Paignton Community & Sports College designed a spreadsheet calendar for the school year showing exam board deadlines and exam periods, and the activities for each week. Busy weeks can be anticipated by bringing some tasks forward. Problem With so many so many responsibilities, students and exam periods it was proving difficult to stay on top of all the required tasks. We were finding it hard to be proactive and sometimes did not have enough time to organise things efficiently. Solution We designed a spreadsheet calendar for the school year with two boxes per week. The first box shows exam board deadlines and exam periods, and the second box gives details of activities we need to complete that week. When compiling the calendar we worked backwards from each deadline, working out what we need to do and the best time to do it. Benefits It has made a huge difference. We are proactive, and planning is very much easier. It also means we can avoid having weeks where we run around like headless chickens! If we think one week is going to be too busy to cope with, we bring forward some tasks to the week before. We have saved money on late entries and our stress levels are much lower!

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Form for teaching staff makes sure the exams office is kept up to date with new college courses
Elaine Webster - Balderstone Technology College, Rochdale Type of centre: 11-16 secondary school Number of pupils/students: 1,000 Summary At Balderstone Technology College staff keep the exams office up to date with course changes using a specially devised form. This records subject, awarding body, module codes and significant dates such as coursework submission. Problem Every year the College offers new courses. It is essential that teaching staff keep the exams office up to date with any changes so that we can plan for the new exams. Solution I devised a form that I distribute to teaching staff every year. This year's form requests information about the courses the College will be offering during the period September 2006 to summer 2008 - that is to year 10 in 2006/7, year 11 in 2007/8 and year 11 in 2006/7. This allows me to record subject, awarding body, module codes and significant dates, for example for coursework submission and practical options. Benefits The form is a really valuable resource that helps me to manage my workload. I now have plenty of warning of new specifications being delivered at the centre during the following academic year and have time to research deadline dates, series and timetable information and exam board procedure, which is particularly important when the course is offered by a 'new' exam board.

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Storage of confidential material. Security system for GCSE science investigative skills assessments materials
Emma Taylor - Rushey Mead School, Leicester Type of centre: 11-16 secondary school Number of pupils/students: 1,372 Problem With the introduction of controlled assessment there was confusion over the administration of investigative skills assessments (ISAs). I had no control over the assessment materials, including who took them and when. We needed to implement a system to ensure the centre adhered to the awarding body guidelines, which require that: centres keep copies of ISA papers, associated marking guidelines and scripts under secure conditions at all times when an ISA is required for use with a group of candidates, the centre prints only the number sufficient for that group centres never return completed ISAs to candidates Solution I agreed with the Head of Science that I should hold the passwords and the disc containing the ISAs. When the science department requires an ISA, the member of staff emails the exams office stating the date and time of the assessment and the number of copies required for the group. I then print the required number of ISA papers and store them securely. On the day of the exam, the teacher collects the papers and the associated marking guidelines and signs the security log. The teacher is responsible for keeping the papers secure until the assessment takes place. Once they have marked the ISAs, the teachers record the results and return the completed papers, associated marking guidelines and any spare papers to the exams office. I sign the security log to confirm receipt of the exam materials and store everything securely until the candidate has been awarded the qualification and the enquiries about results deadline has passed. Benefits I am solely responsible for the disc containing the ISAs and can access it easily when required. There are no spare papers lying around the centre as I print the correct number of ISAs and ensure that staff return the same number to the exams office. I keep the completed ISAs and associated marking guidelines under secure conditions. When awarding bodies request coursework I and/or the Head of Science can collate it immediately and verify that it has been kept under secure conditions. The security log identifies missing items that staff should have returned and I can chase them up.

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Digital photographs help confirm candidate ID


Christopher Hemming - Hills Road Sixth Form College Cambridge Type of centre: Sixth form college Number of pupils/students: 1,780 Number of candidates: 2,100 Exam fees: 350,000 Current exams office software: In-house system

Problem Identifying most candidates at exam time is not a problem because the college issues college photographic ID cards to all full-time students. External candidates are requested to bring either a passport or a new-style driving licence as proof of identity. However, some candidates forget to bring their ID. This can delay the start of exams and necessitates additional work in order to maintain the security of the exam. Solution At enrolment we take digital photographs of all new students. The digital photo filename includes their name (surname first). The digital photographs are copied onto laptop computers that are used at the entrance to the exam room. In this way any candidates without ID can be quickly checked against the photographic record. We can then issue temporary ID cards that candidates place on their desks to indicate to the invigilator doing the room check that their IDs have been confirmed. Before candidates leave the exam room the invigilators collect the cards. We take digital photographs of any external candidates without proof of identity and request that they return with formal ID so that we can check this against the image taken at the time of their exam and establish that it is the same person. Benefits Delays to the start of exams are reduced and another burden on the exams office is removed because the majority of candidates can be correctly identified before entering the exam room. Security issues relating to external candidates are minimised.

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Annotating the attendance register to generate seating plans


Stephen Smith - St John Payne School Type of centre: 11-18 comprehensive Number of candidates: < 800 Problem I needed to devise a simple, accurate and quick method of generating seating plans that meets the requirements of the exam boards. Solution I annotate the attendance registers supplied by the exam boards to show the positions of the desks for each exam. To do this I take the attendance register(s) to the hall before the exam starts and adopt a simple grid reference for each desk. The front left desk facing down the hall is A1, the one behind it A2 etc. to A12. The next row down the hall from front to back is given the letters B1... B12. The beauty of this system is that I can write the grid reference down the left-hand side of the registers using the first desk only in each row (ie. A1, B1... H1). Any other desk's position can be worked out relative to this on the register. Since we keep a copy of each attendance register at school, I have one with the seating plan on it to show an inspector if necessary. Benefits It takes me about three minutes to produce the seating plan for a full hall and I complete the task before candidates arrive. The best time is just after I have put the candidate numbers on the desks. When we have only a small number of candidates I don't know in advance how the caretaker will set out the desks. My system means that I can ignore the quite complex seating organiser in the SIMS software, which saves a lot of time.

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Exam page on school website provides instant information for parents and candidates
Teresa Pollard - The Netherhall School and Sixth Form College, Cambridge Type of centre: 11-18 secondary school Number of pupils/students: 1,400 Number of candidates: 430 Problem The information about exam policies and procedures that we were sending candidates, parents and staff was inconsistent, generating problems that could have been avoided. Often, letters sent home with candidates or even by post would not reach parents or would be claimed lost. We also needed a way of providing instant information about exams for parents and candidates. Solution After a year in the post, I realised that the most efficient way of communicating with parents and staff was through email and if people have access to email they can also access the internet. I decided that the best solution would be to add a page to the school's website. After consulting parents and teachers and receiving positive feedback from them all, I arranged a meeting with senior management and in less than a week the web page was up and running. This new page contains useful exam information and links, which I can update regularly. Candidates and their parents can check the exam timetable, the syllabus codes and exam boards, access the exam boards' websites and look at specifications and read the school policies, details of procedures used during exam seasons and the JCQ regulations. We have included details of the new exam web page in the school newsletter and have told students about it in assemblies. We also plan to send out details with statements of entry for the summer 2007 exams. Benefits The web page supports other communication channels, for example assemblies, letters, newsletters, email and displays around the school. Communication with parents, students and staff is much improved and everyone has the opportunity to be well informed before the exam season starts. Teachers like being able to access the exam information from home, whenever necessary. It is good practice to have in place an efficient system for disseminating useful and essential exam information. The method that we have chosen is very effective and could be used by any school. Future In the long term, the web page will save us time, paper and money.

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