The stress of the exams system

The summer term places huge stress on exam officers with serious consequences – for them, for the students sitting exams, and for the system as a whole, says Andrew Harland, chief executive of the International Examination Officers Association (iEOA) in SecEd.

At the moment, the education press is full of articles about the “wellbeing” of both teachers and students. And quite rightly too – we now see regular reference being made to the growing rise in mental health problems among young people as well as the work-related stress that comes with the life (and workload) of a teacher.

Much of this has been associated with exam stress, certainly at GCSE and A level. But exam pressure also affects another group of school professionals. In our 2018 survey of exams officers, 86 per cent told us that they were becoming more stressed because of a growing examinations workload. Some of our members stated that part of that increased workload – where they were “expected to work longer hours, for less pay and with no offer of time in lieu” – is a knock-on effect because of stressed teaching colleagues.

I attended a recent Education Select Committee hearing at the House of Commons which featured an important report produced by the Education Support Partnership (Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018). Some of the feedback in this report infers that a teacher community under stress may not always respond to their exam officer colleagues appropriately over exam processes and practices.

At the same time, the most common complaint by exam officers – across more than 18 years of research by the iEOA – is a break-down in communication at critical times between teachers and exams officers.

What has been sadly lacking is a greater focus on the welfare of this community and the individuals within it. For too long the focus on helping and supporting the exam officer community has been externally driven and centred only on the welfare of the exam system itself.

Much of this so-called support has been system-driven, with the emphasis on only providing activities that help the community to deliver its role – with no responsibility to the workforce that is expected to operate and implement the public exam system under, at times, enormous pressure.

Read the full article The stress of the exams system

Are you an exam officer feeling the strain? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter – Tamsin

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