What Could Remote Invigilation Mean For Education?

By Ashley Harrold


How does remote invigilation work and how could it benefit our students?

It is always a joy to celebrate your students’ GCSE and A level triumphs, but as I’m sure many of you may agree, success is so much more than a grade. For some of our students at  King’s InterHigh, being able to sit an exam is a huge achievement.

In the summer term, our online school made history as 150 of our learners sat their exams at home via remote invigilation (RI). Many of these students had special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), anxiety, health issues and geographical challenges and would have struggled to complete an exam ‘normally’. Over the course of 19 days, as many as 1,554 remotely-invigilated exam sessions took place across 16 different qualifications, all away from exam halls and test centres.

The pilot, which was trialled in partnership with Pearson, could be the gateway to changing the future outcomes and life chances of a huge number of children and young people who cannot access traditional exam conditions and set-ups.

We all know that these learners exist, and that their individual needs are not always being met in mainstream education. Indeed, new research shows that while 60% of teachers believe education is more inclusive and diverse than it was five years ago, 69% say the growing number of students with SEND or additional learning needs are not being effectively supported to aspire and achieve by the current system.1

That’s why a key part of this pioneering pilot was using RI to personalise students’ exam experiences as much as possible. Here’s an inside look at how RI worked in practice and a taste of the tools that could hopefully one day be in reach of schools who – like us – are keen to help rewrite the rules around inclusive assessment.

A student-centric exam journey

While RI might sound like a purely technical or ‘remote’ approach to examinations, the reality in this pilot was very much focused on every student. Our core aim for the pilot was to give every student the chance to experience exams and achieve qualifications, rather than miss out due to their unique needs, ability or circumstances.

By bringing secure assessments in our students’ homes and chosen environments this summer via RI, our learners with medical conditions could have rest breaks throughout their exams as they needed them. Our students with neurological differences could sit their exams from their bedroom or the kitchen table, in places where they felt most comfortable, and where they could make noise and move around in ways that they just couldn’t have done in an exam hall.

Take our student Amelia who has sensory issues and struggles in traditional exam environments, as an example. Her mother explained how “She finds being sat in an exam hall or classroom with a stranger invigilating the assessment in silence extremely challenging and will hone in on all sorts of small sounds and stimuli, struggling to concentrate on the test itself and doing far from her best.” Through this pilot, Amelia sat her exams from her bedroom with 10–15- minute rest breaks as she needed them and with access to a mini trampoline to help her with her physical and sensory outputs, as well as her focus.

We even had another student, a young racing car driver, whose professional sporting commitments this year meant that he was required to be racing at the time of his International GCSE English Language A and Mathematics exams. Special access was granted so that he could take his exams in his trailer at the track!

We discovered that RI could widen access to qualifications to students who otherwise would have been unable to achieve their full potential.

How it worked in practice

Students involved in the pilot sat their Pearson Edexcel International GCSE exams either onscreen or on paper. Remote invigilators at Pearson monitored students using three different camera views from three different recording devices. These included views of the student’s screen or printed exam paper, their location, and also their webcam and microphone settings.

There was also a chat function between students and remote invigilators. Through this, learners could ask for assistance, for example when checking their set-up was okay or confirming times for rest breaks.

As well as every exam being watched live by a remote invigilator, the sessions were recorded and reviewed to ensure adherence to exam guidelines. Meanwhile, students completing onscreen exams were required to access the exam platform via an installed Safe Exam Browser or kiosk mode – meaning that everything other than the exam was locked down. This prevented the use of other programmes or the internet during the exam session.

In addition, throughout the pilot, to fully ensure fairness for all students, those involved were unable to access and/or download their papers, and begin their exams, until 30 minutes after those students who were sitting exams in schools.

The impact

How did RI work for us? I’ll let some of our students’ experiences do the talking here…

Amelia not only achieved top grades in all her exams this summer, she also enjoyed the assessment experience, something she would never have said previously: “I really enjoyed sitting my exams from home in my bedroom, as it was very good for accessibility. I can get panic attacks, but being able to sit my exams from somewhere that I felt comfortable and being able to take regular breaks easily and make noise on my trampoline really helped me manage my stress and do my best. I’ll be doing my A levels next and after that I want to go to university. I’m passionate about human rights and want to make a difference for people with disabilities and those who feel marginalised.”

It was a similar story for student Sylvie, who has myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). She works best in the afternoon so had a staggered start time of her exams and longer rest breaks, whilst still under secure exam conditions. She said RI was a “game changer… With my condition I honestly don’t think that I would have been able to do them in person, or I would have just been so exhausted when I got there that I would have done terribly. My remote invigilator was fantastic, so patient and helpful… I felt really supported and confident throughout.”

Elsewhere, Joba, who most likely would not have been able to sit a traditional exam at all due to his needs, was able to complete six exams from his kitchen table, while his father waited upstairs, rooting him on. While Sonny, the racing car driver, could get his International GCSE grades without impacting his sporting career.

These are just some of the remarkable student stories from this pilot. Our teachers also found the experience a really positive one and have relished the opportunity to see their students flourish in ways that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

What’s next?

As for my thoughts of the pilot and the use of RI more broadly: I feel like something momentous is in our grasp; that the responsible use of RI is a key step for ensuring transformation and genuine inclusive assessment for the learners that need it.

We’re hoping to offer RI again to students this academic year, and I know Pearson is keen to work with regulators to explore how it could be used elsewhere. While it might not be appropriate for all students, we wonder if it could transform access to exams and outcomes for more learners with SEND, or those in alternative provision, hospitals or hospices?

This pilot was an important chapter, and we look forward to being part of where the story goes next.

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