Skip to main content

Invigilated examinations for professionals face COVID-19 challenges

Sarah Ellson
School and college results this year caused a great deal of debate and discussion abounds as to the impact of results for examinations that were never taken, and the confusion and discontent about the estimated results. However, other examinations take place each year where it is imperative a candidate must sit with their peers and more importantly be seen to be taking the examination, to properly assess their candidacy and reduce the risk of fraud.
Every year, thousands of candidates sit "pen and paper version" examinations designed to test their skills, knowledge and behaviour as a professional in training. These invigilated examinations for adults are usually held in a range of venues – hotels, universities, halls in civic buildings, sports stadia.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic affecting public gatherings and with differing guidelines across the country and local lockdowns in some regions, many examining bodies will be concerned over how to stage examinations this year.

The implications of postponing or even cancelling examinations may have serious consequences for some professions and this may not only affect UK-based candidates, but also thousands of candidates across the world who are also due to sit similar examinations.

The challenge in the United Kingdom is that each home nation addresses public gatherings differently and examining bodies need to know whether the each government's current guidelines prevent it staging examinations.

The legal position on people being together indoors derives from different regulations and the basis for invigilated examinations to proceed is different in each of the four nations, some laws have focussed on private dwellings but other on public spaces.

Under the current law, in most of the UK it should be possible to proceed with examinations which will involve groups of more than 30 people from different households coming to an indoor venue to take the exam. However, we would caution professional bodies wishing to stage examinations in Wales for example where there must be a reasonable excuse for people to meet indoors.

Holding invigilated examinations anywhere is subject to venues being able to satisfy themselves that they can comply with social distancing guidance. There will also be a need for the examining bodies to provide evidence of their own risk assessments as the organisers of these events. 

Examining bodies will need to take steps to support infection control and social distancing measures to run the examinations, they may even want to amend exam regulations.

Many venues may say that they require local authority approval before hosting such events and nearly all will be subject to local authority inspection and enforcement by environmental health.  What precisely is required may depend on the nature of the venue and the approach taken by the local authority. If the local authority is not satisfied as to the proposed arrangements for an event, a venue is unlikely to be prepared to proceed.

The other factor to consider is that the legislation and guidance can be expected to change, which may make the situation more or less restricted, and examining bodies should take advice accordingly.

Sign up to our email digest

Click to subscribe or manage your email preferences.