Exam Officers FAQ

Legal references on this page apply to England.

Exam Officers - FAQs about External Candidates

Compiled by Angela Horn

This document is intended for Examinations Office staff who are considering accepting home-educated students as external candidates. Thank you for taking the time to look at it. It has been produced by home-educating parents. Our focus is on making the process of accepting external candidates as easy as possible for the school. If you can think of any way in which the administrative or practical workload could be reduced for you, please discuss this with the parents; it is in our interests to make this as straightforward as possible for you.

This web page will print/save as a 6 page pdf, minus this paragraph and also minus Mea's story and Home Educators' Experiences. The website includes a Printer-Friendly style sheet which already removes the headings and lists in full all the web links from any page you want to print. The address for this page is http://edyourself.org/articles/examofficers.php

Examination Officers' Association

We are very grateful for the invaluable advice and information received from the Examination Officers' Association (EOA) while developing this document. The EOA, as the professional body representing the exam office community, supports the need to provide access to the exam system for all learners, through building a network register of centres on the EOA website http://www.examofficers.org.uk who will offer external/private candidates places to take their exams, and by providing help and guidance through the exam management tool MEOY – My Exam Office Year (which provides documents, templates, hints and tips).

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What and who are external candidates?
What's the Department for Education's view?
What’s in it for me as an exam officer?
What's in it for my school?
What is the potential income and cost?
Will external candidates' results affect my school's results?
Can a school offer IGCSEs that are not OFQUAL-approved?
What if we don’t have any of our own students sitting the same exam?
Does a school have to accept candidates with additional needs?
How do I make entries for external candidates?
What about Controlled Classroom Assessment or coursework?
Will I have to provide information about syllabuses, exam requirements etc?
What does the Exams Officer need to do for external candidates?
Does the Exam Officer need to meet candidates beforehand?
Will external candidates behave appropriately during exams?
At what age do home-educated students take exams?

What and who are external 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” applies to any student who is entering themselves for an exam rather than being entered by their educational institution - it can include your own enrolled students. External candidates are a subset of private candidates who are not enrolled students.

This document has been compiled by home-educators and so the focus is on access to qualifications for home-educated students. However, some exams officers find that adult and resit candidates make up the larger portion of their applicants.

What's the Department for Education's view?

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.’ http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmeduc/1013/1013.pdf

What's in it for me as an exam officer?

Helping to make qualifications available to all students. You can make a real difference to students who need qualifications but face barriers to access. Contact with the wider education community; meet people who truly appreciate the importance of access to qualifications. The impact on your workload should be minimal as the home-educating parents will do the background research regarding exam requirements, entry codes etc.

What's in it for my school?

  • Fundraising - exam centres generally charge an admin fee in addition to the exam board’s fees. If these funds can be earmarked for a visible project or a school fundraising campaign, it may help others to recognise this benefit
  • Demonstrates that the school supports the local community, not just its own students; a true community school
  • Emphasises the importance of qualifications - school pupils see external candidates of different ages clearly going to some lengths to gain the opportunities that they may take for granted and may focus their attention on the potential need to resit
  • Promotes positive relations with a diverse range of people and learning institutions who come into contact with the centre - the school is doing outreach work. Some home-educated students have joined schools in the sixth form after a positive experience sitting exams there
  • Independent schools can show support for the local community through allowing access to exams, especially for students with additional needs who may struggle to find an exam centre to accommodate them

What is the potential income and cost?

A typical, reasonable, admin fee would be around £25-£50 per qualification, in addition to the exam board fees. The number of qualifications taken per student will vary from 1 to 10 or more. One state school accepted 200 external candidates and raised around £20,000 in a year, although this involved considerable work for the exams officer. The upper limit of charges would be those set by the few private exam centres, which are usually found at tutorial colleges. Typical fees at these centres might be £125 per IGCSE or GCSEs including exam board fees (only for subjects with no Controlled Assessment), and £225 for Language IGCSEs including Speaking and Listening tests. Some centres prefer to charge a set fee per paper rather than per qualification; one charges £75 per paper including exam board fees, and £150 for GCSE Controlled Assessment.

If an additional invigilator is required (eg if the candidates cannot be accommodated alongside your own students) then either the home education group can provide an invigilator, or the charge for an invigilator can be shared between the candidates (usually approx £10 per hour).

Some exam officers ask an individual home educator to act as liaison with the local home education community and coordinate its entries and payments.

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 Department for Education has confirmed this to us [see References below] The student should be identified as a external candidate when entry is made. For most boards there will be a category for this.

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 should then be removed manually during the Tables Checking Exercise

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

Yes. While a maintained school will generally only teach courses which are OFQUAL-approved, there is no such restriction on taking entries for exams. Qualifications which are not approved do not attract school performance points, but this is not relevant for external candidates as their results do not count anyway (reference)

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 should be able to offer examinations in the Edexcel Certificates or International GCSE examinations without any further approval. Pearson Edexcel have confirmed this to us: “If a centre is approved to offer GCSEs they are automatically approved to offer International GCSEs. Therefore there are no additional approval steps required in order to enter learners and centres would only need to contact us if they were struggling to make the entries in the usual way (i.e. they couldn't find the basedata/work out how to enter the learners on Edexcel Online).” (Correspondence from Simon Titley at Pearson Edexcel, 6 February 2014)

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. CIE qualifications require a different administrative system from the Examinations Office and have some procedural differences. Because CIE qualifications are aimed at the international market, they do not fit into JCQ timetabling. CIE have said they will try to improve access for external candidates and are happy to talk to Exam Officers about the process.

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.

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 sitting 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. Otherwise, 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, and schools which accept many external candidate entries do not usually require it. The rule is caveat emptor - the external candidates pay their fees and take their chances. The Exam Officer might wish to make the candidate confirm they are aware that no subject specialist teacher will be available.

Does a school have to accept candidates with additional needs?

Does a school have to accept candidates with additional needs?

No, the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 [disability discrimination/reasonable adjustment] 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 - it could make a great difference to a candidate if an Examinations Officer was prepared to arrange this. The parents will be keen to help make the process easier so please ask them if you feel further research is needed. Colleagues in the Examination Officers' Association regional networks may be able to advise.

For more information on access arrangements for external candidates with additional needs, please refer to this web page http://ehe-sen.org.uk/exams.php and to the JCQ Access Arrangements

How do I make entries for external candidates?

The procedure is as for internal candidates, but ensure that private/external candidate status is selected on your qualification provider’s online entry form. This should ensure that external candidates’ results are identified separately on summaries. Pearson Edexcel and CIE have stated their willingness to improve access for external candidates and are happy to advise Exams Officers on any procedural queries; we assume the same will be true of other boards.

What about Controlled Classroom Assessment or coursework?

It is usually more straightforward for external candidates to take alternative qualifications which do not involve Controlled Assessment (CA), because of the expense and administration involved. However, you can accept external candidates for qualifications which include Controlled Assessment or other forms of coursework, as long as you can fulfil the examining body’s requirements for CA, and some schools accept external candidates to work alongside an existing class for this, or as a separate group.

There are a small number of GCSEs which do not have a CA component (maths, law, psychology, sociology and a few others) but for other subjects, International GCSEs (IGCSEs) generally offer an alternative without the need for coursework. Thus, home-educated students often take IGCSEs in English, the sciences, History etc.. Science IGCSE exams do not include a compulsory practical component, but the examination includes written questions on how experiments would be carried out. It is the candidate’s own responsibility to ensure that they obtain sufficient experience in practical science skills to take the subject further if they wish. Candidates can be assured that IGCSEs will be accepted as equivalent to GCSEs by colleges and universities. For more information please see the Home Education Exams Wiki IGCSE page (http://www.home-education-exams.org.uk)

NB There are some subjects for which there is no GCSE or IGCSE which does not require controlled assessment. Examples include Physical Education, Textiles, and Drama. Students who wish to study such subjects at sixth form can find it difficult to negotiate the applications process if they have not been able to access GCSEs in these areas. If GCSEs are not available then they usually compile portfolios for arts and crafts, and may take specialist qualifications with a private teacher or group for other subjects, eg music grades, drama grades, or qualifications with sporting bodies such as assistant coach. Access to controlled assessment would benefit many students who wish to obtain these qualifications, as it would simplify their applications to sixth form or FE college.

Will I need to provide information about exams, syllabuses etc?

No, the parents can do this research. The home-education community has plenty of experience and information available to help home-educators choose a specification and gather all the information that will be required to make their entries. The home educators' exams group is an online support group for home-educating families interested in qualifications, and the Home Education Exams wiki is a reference site with information about all aspects of taking exams as an external candidate. The wiki would also be a suitable resource for external candidates who are not home-educated, eg mature students. (http://www.home-education-exams.org.uk )

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?

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.

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.

Will external candidates behave appropriately during exams?

We can only talk about home-educated students. For home-educating families, entering a student for an exam involves a large commitment of time and resources and it is usually taken very seriously. The parents are unlikely to enter the student for an exam unless they are confident that the child is ready, even though the child may sometimes be quite young. 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. Others find that a telephone conversation with a parent is sufficient to establish whether the family understands the situation. Some exams officers ask a parent to wait outside the exam room so that they are on hand if there are any difficulties.

At what age do home-educated students take exams?

Because home-educated students are able to study at their own rate, many take some exams considerably earlier than the Year 10-11 norm. They may also spread their exams over several years, for financial and logistical reasons. This means that some may, for instance, take their first qualifications aged 12 or 13. The experience of doing so can be valuable and may help them to decide what steps to take next. As the candidate’s results will not affect the school’s results, you should not need to worry about any impact on your own establishment.

Notes and References

Note 1 - Excluding external Candidate results from school results

The following information has been provided by the Department for Education. DfE attribute pupils to schools on the basis of where they have been recorded as 'being on roll' at the time of the January School Census. Therefore, as long as state schools complete their census returns correctly, the inclusion of private candidates in performance tables should not be an issue for the centre.

In independent schools, however, results for external candidates are initially attributed because these schools do not complete a pupil level census. In these cases, DfE takes its information on pupils for which the school may be accountable from data provided by awarding organisations (including entries, results and names of centres where the exam was taken). DfE does ask all independent schools to check their data before it is published [Table Checking Exercise] so that they can ask for external candidates to be removed from the calculations.

The criteria set out for private entries and external candidates are set out in the Department for Education's guidance, which is made available to schools and colleges in September of each year.

https://tableschecking.education.gov.uk/Web13/KS45_Checked/Documents.aspx (link verified February 25th 2014)

DfE release of GCSE results 2012 at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/219191/sfr25-2012.pdf “Schools have been given the opportunity through the Performance Tables checking exercise to adjust this number, for example removing pupils who have been matched to the school who might be external candidates or overseas pupils.”

See also http://edyourself.org/articles/privatecandidates.php

Note 2: Department for Education advice on accepting external candidates


They have also produced (Feb 2013) a Word document on the same subject. http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/docx/a/accepting%20private%20candidates%20ta.docx 'Accepting private candidates' published by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency. https://orderline.education.gov.uk/gempdf/1445906392/Private_candidates_guidance_and_case_studies_-_FINAL(1).pdf

Note 3:Schools accepting external candidates for non-OFQUAl approved exams

We asked the Department for Education to confirm that schools were able to offer examination in qualifications which are not OFQUAL-approved. They responded:
“The fact that a qualification is not approved for teaching in UK schools is not necessarily a barrier to an Awarding Organisation (AO) being able to accept entries for it. Schools need to check with the Awarding Organisation (AO) offering the qualification as to whether entries for private UK candidates can be accepted for a particular qualification.” (correspondence from Exams Delivery Support Unit at Department for Education, 11 June 2013.)

Note that, in practice, the parents will check whether the qualification is suitable for private UK candidates and, through the Home Education Exams networks, should be well aware which qualifications are usually taken by home-educated children. The Exams Office should not have to undertake any further work in this respect.

We have also had confirmation from Edexcel Pearson that there is no barrier to maintained schools being able to accept external candidates for their International GCSEs.

Home Educators' Experiences

  • I approached 189 schools before I found one where my son could take exams
    Case Study 3
  • The most helpful advice was to get the school on board before you decide what exams are do-able.
    Case Study 4
  • This time around we are doing all IGCSEs because he can just go in and take the exams
    Case Study 5
  • The centre will accommodate any board, can arrange practicals and is only a 30 minute drive away.
    Case Study 7
  • The home education group had set up a parents co-op group to help children prep and work towards exams, meeting only one morning a week in a hired community village hall. Luckily for us the drive there is no more than 60 miles away.
    Case Study 8
Read more here http://edyourself.org/articles/examshomeedexp.php

Link Reference

This article is http://edyourself.org/articles/examofficers.php. The following links to other websites are contained in the article, displayed as citations to aid you in printing the document.

  1. http://edyourself.org/articles/examofficers.php http://edyourself.org/articles/examofficers.php
  2. CIE http://www.cie.org.uk/i-want-to/find-a-cambridge-school/
  3. reasonable adjustment http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents
  4. http://www.home-education-exams.org.uk http://www.home-education-exams.org.uk
  5. home educators' exams group http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/HE-Exams-GCSE-A_AS_Levels-OU-Others/info
  6. http://edyourself.org/articles/privatecandidates.php http://edyourself.org/articles/privatecandidates.php
  7. http://edyourself.org/articles/examshomeedexp.php http://edyourself.org/articles/examshomeedexp.php
  8. FAQ for Exam Officers External Candidates http://edyourself.org/articles/examofficers.php
  9. Help with Access to Exams http://edyourself.org/articles/examsreport.php
  10. Special Arrangements for Exams http://ehe-sen.org.uk/exams.php
  11. Westminster Meetings Discussing Exams Access http://edyourself.org/articles/allpartygrouphomeeducation.php
  12. Education Committee Recommendations re Exam Support http://edyourself.org/articles/edcomsupporthomeed.php
  13. FAQ Exams for Private Candidates http://edyourself.org/articles/examsfaq.php
  14. Home Education and Exams http://edyourself.org/articles/exams.php
  15. Case Studies Home Education and Exams http://edyourself.org/articles/examshomeedexp.php
  16. Survey Local Authority Help with Exam Access http://edyourself.org/articles/examcentresurvey.php
  17. Removing Private Candidates from Schools Results Tables http://edyourself.org/articles/privatecandidates.php