Exams and the end of the school/college year

Crikey, in two weeks’ time I will have completed a whole academic year at my new college. Well, I say a whole year, I didn’t actually start until October but what’s in a month?

So much has happened in this time. I passed AMBDA – meaning I ticked the box to say that I can actually definitely do this job! I also passed my Masters and gained my assessment practicing certificate, so I’m most bodaciously tooled up for the job – and yet, it was a bit like a lamb to the slaughter.

To explain, I believe that my college was one of the largest, if not the largest, exam centre in England (at least for GCSE maths and English). We had something like 1100 students for English and 900 for maths. Of course, we also had students sitting other GCSEs, A levels, Functional Skills, Access courses and degree programmes. On top of that, we have a number of students on Entry Level courses. I don’t often see these students because the tutors can organise their exam access arrangements themselves. We may see them for guidance or equipment loans, but there are also other routes to support.

So, going back to October, I had to quickly get my head around the dreaded JCQ arrangements and Form 8s. There are four of us in my office working the equivalent of a minimum 13.5 days per week and we went like the clappers! Assess, report, assess, report, assess, report – right up until 2 weeks before the GCSEs – and yet we were still getting inquiries! We operate an open-door policy you see. No previous label required!

We work somewhat differently to schools it seems. All four of us have M level qualifications & the necessary BDA/Patoss/Dyslexia Guild etc paperwork to do our jobs. JCQ does not actually specify our qualification, only ‘suitably qualified to carry out assessments as acceptable to the Exam centre’-type wording. We, however, are unmistakably qualified. What we despair over is the scrappy pieces of paper often passed to us but students from their old schools, the one that say ‘Johnny is entitled to 25% extra time’ with no further information. Who decided this, by what qualification did they make that judgement, for what reason(s)???? They go in the bin. I now see such wording on EHCPs, but again with no stated justification. At college, we need to know the qualifications of the previous assessor if we are going to sign off on a piece of paper. At 16, we reassess and send a copy of the Form 8 out to the students ,so nothing is ‘hidden’.

The open door policy may be why we can’t keep up! That and the fact that students tend to forget to keep their appointments…… One of mine missed SIX and got his concessions by the skin of his teeth.

I talk to people in my advocacy role & there are clearly so many students out there who fall within the JCQ arrangements for additional time etc and yet schools don’t routinely apply for it. I admit to finding this somewhat puzzling – oh, until I visited a local school. ‘We don’t screen unless we have to, we don’t have the staff to cover in exams’. Other than highly likely to contravene their Reasonable Adjustments duty, do schools not want to up their pass rate? How many of our re-sitters would have passed at school if they were given an extra 25%? And how would that cripple a school staff-wise? Likewise with the need for a reader, why not use screen-reading software? Virtually all PCs have it in-built these days so no additional cost there, only the need to make the school’s PCs/laptops available.

We are at a time where budgets are squeezed, league tables and Ofsted gradings being of utmost importance so why not ensure that those who are entitled, get the exam concessions they rightly deserve? After all, it helps to make a school look good, doesn’t it? Even worse, there may well be an element of cherry-picking ‘nice, bright’ students for additional time and ignoring those deemed unworthy. While this is going on, colleges will bear the brunt of the government’s insistence that students must re-sit maths and English until they get a ‘good pass’, which of course, now means a high C, not any old C.

My college spent a reported 50K to hire a venue and transport the students to it, in a fleet of buses. I also get the feeling that the breakfast which was provided also made up part of that cost. Breakfast, after all, is the most important meal of the day. Breakfast like a King, dine like a Queen and supper like a pauper – or something like that! I get the feeling that for a few students, it may have been their only meal for that day. Lest we forget, many of those re-sitting their maths and English are those who are society’s most vulnerable, and the most invisible to the likes of Nicky Morgan.

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