Schools brace for Covid exams disruption as pupil anxiety rises

Invigilator shortages, requests to sit exams in separate rooms and Covid infections cause major headache for heads, says union

Invigilator shortages, requests to sit exams in separate rooms and Covid infections cause major headache for heads, says union

11 May 2022, 0:01

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The DfE will refund schools for exam fees and costs.

Most headteachers have seen a rise in exams-related anxiety since the Covid pandemic, with many expecting infections among pupils and invigilator shortages to disrupt the tests, a survey suggests.

The poll by the ASCL school leaders’ union also found the majority of heads had received requests for students to take exams in separate rooms, with three in five fearing Covid disruption will escalate.

Pupils across England are preparing for the start of their GCSE and A-level exams next week – the first summer in-person tests since 2019.

But with Covid cases still affecting schools, some leaders fear infections among pupils may cause them to miss exams.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton warned that while schools “are doing everything possible” to support pupils’ mental health, but the “government has simply not shown enough urgency in improving mental health support for young people”.

8 in 10 leaders report increase in anxiety

The survey, completed by 527 headteachers last week, found that 82.2 per cent of leaders reported the level of stress and anxiety among exam pupils was higher than in pre-pandemic years.

In many cases this resulted in high levels of pupil absence, ASCL said, while other headteachers reported a rise in challenging behaviour and incidents of self-harm.

Stress was found to be greater among A-levels pupils, who have never sat a major exam after Covid led to the cancellation of their GCSEs.

In addition, just under 8 out of 10 headteachers said they had received more requests than before the pandemic for pupils to sit exams in separate rooms away from the main exam hall.

The union said this was mainly as a result of high levels of stress and anxiety.

Schools Week previously revealed that schools faced a “logistical nightmare” in organising additional exam rooms and invigilators.

Barton added: “This is far from being a return to normal, and we are particularly concerned about the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of young people.

“Stress and anxiety were already problems pre-pandemic. It must surely be possible to slim down the exam system and make it more proportionate and humane.”

2 in 5 heads struggle to find invigilators

As schools attempt to accommodate the requests for separate rooms, they continue to struggle to recruit a sufficient number of invigilators.

More than a third of headteachers (38 per cent) said their school had still not recruited enough.

Last month, the National Association of Examinations Officers revealed over four in five of 1,000 exam officers surveyed reported a shortage.

While the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) announced that this year schools will be allowed to use fewer exam invigilators to alleviate the anticipated disruption.

Barton said the reintroduction of free Covid testing may reassure staff and invigilators.

Elsewhere 14 per cent of leaders stated the level of Covid infections among pupils was a concern in terms of pupils potentially missing exams.

A further six out of 10 headteachers said they are concerned their Covid levels “will escalate”.

Schools have been told to follow UKHSA guidance which states pupils who test positive for Covid should be encouraged to isolate for three days.

Under JCQ guidance pupils who miss exams are eligible for “special consideration”. But they will only be awarded grades if they have “completed one whole component within the specification”.

The Department for Education was approached for comment.

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