Briefing Exam Officers FAQ

Legal references on this page apply to England.

Briefing Exam Officers FAQs about External Candidates

Background Information for Home Educators Compiled by Angela Horn

This document is intended as a briefing for Home Educators who are seeking exam centres for home-ed students. It should help you to answer some questions which Exam Officers may ask.

A separate document has been prepared for you to print out and give you Exam Officers, which has similar content

You can also suggest that your Exam Officer contacts the Examination Officers' Association for further information, or to find out how this works for other centres.

It is assumed that you are already familiar with the Home Educators' Exams Group and the Home Education Exams wiki; these may help you locate an exam centre which is already used by home educators. The usual advice is to try to locate an exam centre before choosing a syllabus, as if you have a local centre which will only deal with one exam board, that could be a deciding factor. However, often people will need to find an exam centre having already committed to a syllabus.

There are a few commercial exam centres which specialise in providing exam access for external candidates, usually at tutorial colleges, and these generally provide a good service but usually at a substantial price. For details of these, see the HE Exams wiki . However, for the majority of home educators there is either no such facility in the area, or it is simply not affordable, so if students are to have access to qualifications, they need to find a local exam centre which will allow them to take exams on its premises.

Schools are worried that taking in external candidates may be complicated and time-consuming. They may worry that they will be asked to advise on specifications and exam requirements, or provide general support. You will need to reassure them that this is not the case. The approach which is likely to be most effective is asking "what can I do for the exam office and the school to make this process easier?".

Both Edexcel and CIE have attended meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Home Education with the aim of improving access to qualifications, and have stated their willingness to work with centres to facilitate this.

Examination Officers' Association

We are very grateful for the invaluable advice and information received from the Examination Officers' Association

Mea was initially rejected by 10 schools when she sent speculative emails asking whether her daughter could sit exams as an external candidate. She tried again with a further 20 schools, but this time gave more information about her personal situation and also included this FAQ for Exam Officers. Read more here

Frequently Asked Questions

External Candidates or Private Candidates?
Why should a school accept external candidates? How do I persuade them?
What can we do to reduce the workload for the Centre?
Will the Department for Education approve?
Will external candidates’ results affect the school’s results?
Can a school offer IGCSEs that are not OFQUAL-approved?
If a school doesn't offer IGCSEs or the Edexcel Certificate - can it still take entries for them?
Will the centre offer CIE qualifications?
What if the school doesn’t have any of its own students sitting the same exam?
Does the school need a subject-specialist teacher on site during the exam?
Does the school have to accept candidates with additional needs?
Will the Exams Officer advise us about exams?
What does the Exams Officer need to do for external candidates?

External candidates or Private candidates?

External candidates are students who are not enrolled at the exam centre where they take exams or participate in controlled assessments. The term "private candidate" is less specific - it applies to any candidate who has chosen to enter an exam and has not been entered for it by his or her educational institution. An enrolled student can still be a "private candidate" if she takes an exam at the school she is enrolled in, but this would have different implications for the school than an unknown, unenrolled external student sitting exams there. A home-educated student is not enrolled in a school and therefore will be an external candidate. It may avoid confusion to use this term rather than "private candidate".

Why should a school accept external candidates? How do I persuade them?

Schools have no obligation to accept external candidates; if they do accept such candidates, they are doing you a favour at present and should be treated with consideration. Usually people approach the Exams Officer, but the Head has the final say.

The two main incentives for centres to accept external candidates are community-spiritedness, and money. Their main concern is likely to be the workload, and potential administrative complications. If you can state clearly how you would minimise the workload for the exams office, you are more likely to be accepted.

Community spirit: Where a Head or Exam Officer believes strongly that the school should be a resource for the whole community, they are more likely to accept external candidates. Home educators have had great support from exam officers who believe that all qualifications should be open to the whole community.

Money: The exam board fee for GCSEs and IGCSEs is around £28-£35 depending on the qualification. The exam centre can charge an admin fee on top of this for the use of their facilities and their time. They can charge any amount they want, and fees vary from £15 per qualification to £200, with around £50 perhaps being the average. Some centres charge per paper rather than per qualification.

Unless the school is accepting large numbers of external candidates, they are unlikely to raise enough money from this to make it a significant source of income. However, some schools do raise many thousands of pounds a year in this way. It may help to suggest that money raised from external candidates is earmarked for a specific school project, so that it is highly visible and the whole school can see how it is benefiting from the relationship.

What can we do to reduce the workload for the Centre?

If you make it easy for the centre to deal with you, you are much more likely to be accepted as an external candidate. You can do the following (and explain to the Exam Officer that you will..):

  • Do your research - if you are intending to sit exams in the current academic year, come prepared with the dates, times and codes for the exams that your child will want to sit. Find out about these on the HE Exams Wiki and HE Exams Group if you are not sure
  • If you are looking for a centre for future years, explain that you will not need help in locating documents, syllabuses etc, as you will be able to obtain these yourself, and that you will find all necessary information such as exam codes, dates and times, when submitting your entries
  • Ask in plenty of time - entries for Summer exams are usually submitted in January, so you would need to have had discussions with a potential exam centre in the autumn/winter term
  • Offer to do further research if necessary to find out how other centres accommodate external candidates. We have a great resource in the HE Exams Group
  • If your child needs special Access Arrangements, be clear about how the school could help, and what supporting information you will need. See EHE-SEN Access Arrangements for more details
  • Pay when the entries are made, and before the centre has to make any outlay
  • Understand that the school’s primary concern is its own students and day-to-day business; there may be noise at times during breaks, and there may be disturbances
  • Offer to stay on the premises while your child is taking exams (outside the exam room) if the exams officer is concerned about supervision. Many do not require this, but explain that you are prepared to do so
  • Ensure you have photo ID for your child; passports are ideal, so if one is not available, ask the Exam Officer what to use instead

Will the Department for Education approve?

The school should not fear any official sanctions for accepting external candidates - the Department for Education encourages maintained schools to allow access to exams for home educated students:
'We understand that some home educators can find it difficult to access examinations centres for their children. The Department will continue to encourage maintained schools and further education colleges to provide facilities for young people who are home educated to sit their examinations.'

Will external candidate results affect the school’s exam results?

No, external candidates' results will not affect school exam results or other indicators in performance tables. The student should be identified as an external candidate when entry is made. For most boards there will be a category for this.

The Department for Education has confirmed that, for state (maintained) schools, external candidates' results should automatically be removed from the school data when it is compiled, because the candidate does not appear on the school roll. For independent schools, external candidates will usually appear in the draft data tables and can then be removed manually during the Tables Checking Exercise. See for more details.

Can a school offer IGCSEs that are not OFQUAL-approved?

Yes. OFQUAL- approved qualifications are only necessary for a maintained school to get funding and school performance points for its own students; there is no such restriction on taking entries for exams from external candidates. School performance points are not relevant for external candidates as their results do not count anyway.

The Department for Education has confirmed to us that lack of OFQUAL approval is not a barrier to schools being able to offer qualifications to external candidates.

If a school doesn't offer IGCSEs or the Edexcel Certificate to its own students - can it still take entries for external candidates to sit them?

A school can still accept external candidate entries for qualifications that it doesn’t offer to its own students, even if they are not OFQUAL-approved for state schools. As long as the exam board allows external candidate entries, it can offer the qualification to external candidates. However, this will involve more work for the exam centre since they will need to timetable the additional exam.

If an exam centre is already an approved Centre with Edexcel for GCSEs, it can offer examinations in the Edexcel Certificates or International GCSEs without any further approval. This has been confirmed to us by Pearson Edexcel.

CIE have informed us that the approval process to offer IGCSEs should be very quick and straightforward (a matter of a few days) if the centre is already an OCR exam centre.

Will the centre offer CIE qualifications?

CIE qualifications require a different administrative system from the Examinations Officer. Because CIE qualifications are aimed at the international market, they do not fit into JCQ timetabling. You will need to check with the exam centre whether this will be acceptable to them, and ask if there is anything you can do to make it easier. CIE have said they will try to improve access for external candidates and are happy to talk to Exam Officers about the process.

What if the school doesn’t have any of its own students sitting the same exam?

Some schools seat external candidates in a room with their own candidates, when they are taking different exams. If the exams have different finish times then the finish times for each paper are written on the board and students are warned that they must leave quietly while others are still working.

If the school has no students sitting exams of any kind at the scheduled time, the external candidates can be put in a small room with an invigilator. Some home-education groups provide an invigilator for their students in this situation, or swap invigilation sessions with the school - ie the HE parent invigilates a school exam and a school staff member invigilates the HE exam. Alternatively, exam centres may charge an additional hourly fee for an invigilator.

Does the school need a subject-specialist teacher on site during the exam?

Some exam officers worry that a subject-specialist teacher may be needed on site, in case there is a query about the exam paper. There is no official requirement for this. You may be able to reassure them that a) you have done your exam preparation well enough not to be concerned about this, and/or b) schools which accept many external candidate entries do not usually require this. The rule is caveat emptor - the external candidates pay their fees and take their chances.

Does a school have to accept candidates with additional needs?

No, the provisions of the Equalities Act do not compel them to do this, although if requested they must consider it. Schools currently have no obligation to take any external candidates at all, and they don’t have to take account of special needs. Extra time can often be arranged, but access to a scribe or a keyboard can be more complicated. Often schools which accept external candidates simply don’t have the staff or resources available to do this. You will need to be clear about what extra support your child will need, and ask the exams officer what you can do to help arrange this.

Home educators on the All Party Parliamentary Group for Home Education are lobbying strongly for exams access for candidates with special needs. Pupil Referral Units are accustomed to dealing with candidates with additional needs and may accept external candidates. Your Local Authority may support you in gaining access to qualifications this way. Alternatively, private exam centres are usually very good at accommodating candidates with additional needs, but at an increased cost.

For more information on access arrangements for external candidates with additional needs, please refer to this web page and to the JCQ Access Arrangements

Will the exams officer advise us about exam requirements and syllabuses?

They should not have to - you will need to reassure them that you can obtain this information from other sources. The potential workload involved for the exams officer in guiding you through the syllabus is too high for most to do this. Your first port of call for information about syllabuses and courses should be the Home Education exams network.

We have plenty of information to help home-educators choose a specification and make their entries. The HE-Exams group is an online support resource for home-educating families interested in qualifications, and members have experience of a wide range of qualifications. Some of these resources will also be useful to private candidates who are not home-educated (eg the Home Education Exams wiki)

Some exam centres make an arrangement with an individual home educator who acts as liaison officer with local home education groups and coordinates their entries and payments. If you find a centre that is reluctant to take on external candidates because of concerns about dealing with lots of extra people, you could consider volunteering to do this. Please ask on the HE-Exams group for info from other parents who have taken on this role.

What does the Exams Officer need to do for external candidates?

  • Be clear about timings and what the exams officer needs to know, when
  • For practical exams, please give as much notice as possible of when the test will occur
  • Be aware that some students may be educated outside of school because of anxiety issues and therefore knowing their schedule well in advance can be important. Last-minute changes or uncertainty can place them at a severe disadvantage
  • Let the candidates know what to expect in the institution - where to go, when to arrive, how to contact you on the day
  • Explain if there may be unavoidable noise if the exam extends over a school break period, or if any other disruption is likely
  • Costs need to be made clear in advance so that families can budget for them
  • The candidate should pay before the institution incurs any costs, to avoid misunderstandings
  • Discussions with the families can help to keep costs down, eg at some centres, a home education group provides invigilators or swaps invigilation sessions with school staff

Does the Exam Officer need to meet candidates beforehand and what if they are concerned about candidates' behaviour?

It is not compulsory to have a meeting before accepting entries or sitting an exam, but it can be useful to both the candidate and the exam officer. Some exam officers ask for a meeting with external candidates before accepting entries, to check that the student understands what behaviour is expected during an exam and that they are clear about what you want. They might be particularly concerned about candidates who are taking exams at a younger age than usual and want to know that their own students will not be disturbed. Exam officers who are experienced with external candidates often find that a phone call helps them to screen out the families where a meeting is required, from those where it is clear that the family understands the situation. Some ask for a parent to remain on the premises, or outside the room, while the candidate is taking exams.

The candidate will need to know where to go on the day of the exam, where to find toilets etc. A meeting with the exam officer beforehand can be a good opportunity for the candidate to get used to the layout of the centre.

Notes and References

Department for Education advice on accepting external candidates

They have also produced (Feb 2013) a Word document on the same subject. 'Accepting private candidates' published by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency

Link Reference

This article is The following links to other websites are contained in the article, displayed as citations to aid you in printing the document.

  2. the Home Educators' Exams Group
  3. the Home Education Exams wiki
  4. here
  5. external candidates' results will not affect school exam results
  7. FAQ for Exam Officers External Candidates
  8. Help with Access to Exams
  9. Special Arrangements for Exams
  10. Westminster Meetings Discussing Exams Access
  11. Education Committee Recommendations re Exam Support
  12. FAQ Exams for Private Candidates
  13. Home Education and Exams
  14. Case Studies Home Education and Exams
  15. Survey Local Authority Help with Exam Access
  16. Removing Private Candidates from Schools Results Tables