Headteachers have raised concerns about a lack of invigilators as pupils across the country started their GCSEs and A-levels on Monday.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said a recent ASCL survey of more than 500 headteachers showed a third of schools had not been able to recruit enough invigilators for the summer.
“That is a very significant number and this will cause a lot of logistical problems in the schools and colleges affected,” he said.
He added the shortages seemed to be caused by invigilators being less keen to supervise exams because of Covid fears, as well as an increase in the number of pupils requesting to sit exams in separate rooms away from the exam hall because of stress and anxiety.
“Many people who work as invigilators are retired teachers, may be concerned about the risks of catching Covid and, therefore, not keen on the idea of being in an exam hall with a large number of students, particularly as the Government has withdrawn free Covid testing,” he said.
“We have repeatedly called upon the government to make free Covid tests available to students sitting exams which may have helped to allay these concerns, but the government has refused to do so. We do not think this is consistent with its rhetoric about the importance of exams.”
Mr Barton said schools which were unable to recruit enough invigilators would need to use their existing staff, including teaching assistants, teachers or members of the leadership team, which would mean “redeploying those staff from other duties which is likely to have an impact on provision”.
“This is a very frustrating situation for the schools and colleges concerned.”
Sarah Hannafin, senior policy adviser for the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “Schools and colleges have been working hard recruiting invigilators for this summer – these teams are crucial to the smooth running of the exams and with concerns about possible increased absences during the exam season due to Covid it is vital every centre has sufficient capacity.”
She added: “Our members have reported an increased demand for access arrangements including requests for separate or small room invigilation and many of these are linked to increased student anxiety which also creates additional challenges for more invigilators and spaces to use.
“Schools and colleges will be doing all they can to support their students to prepare for, and take, their exams this summer – not just in terms of teaching and learning, but also in providing reassurance and pastoral support.
“Most of these students have not taken external exams before and nor have they seen their peers take them over the past two years, so there is a real need to make sure they are familiar with the processes and rules, confident in what to expect and can focus on doing their best in the exams.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We do not anticipate general disruption as a result of a lack of invigilators. Schools and exam centres are well-prepared to handle any challenges, having been asked to have robust contingency plans in place.
“We know some schools and colleges have had difficulties recruiting invigilators this year, which is why we have been working closely with exam boards and with the Exams Office, who developed a ‘vacancy map’ that collates centre invigilator vacancies in one place, and which we have shared widely in the run-up to exams. Exam boards have also introduced additional flexibilities to the rules surrounding invigilation, should they be needed.”