Saturday, 10 May 2014
A busy time at Hedges Towers. Exam season is upon us once more, which means I'm currently doing my third part-time job as an invigilator. For those who don't live in the UK - invigilators are people who supervise public exams in secondary schools. In the past, it was a job done internally by teachers, but now it is done externally by us. Unsurprisingly, many invigilators are retired teachers - after all we know the system and are used to working with groups of teenagers. It is a pleasant way to supplement our meagre pensions which doesn't involve zero hour contracts and stacking shelves in a supermarket.
The essence of invigilating lies in the ability to sit reasonably still for a couple of hours with one's eyes open. It is a lot harder than it seems. To distinguish us from the teachers and students, invigilators wear green lanyards with an ID badge. I'd really like something a little more distinctive - maybe a nice black leather jacket with INVIGILATOR on the back in big brass studs, so that I could also supplement said meagre income by doing door work at the weekends. I have floated the idea past the Exams Officer, but he is thinking Exams Office budget, so as yet there is no interface.
The thing people always say when they discover I work as an invigilator is: 'Oh, exams were much harder in my day.' Not sure about that. Certainly not in the subject I tutor, English Literature. I have exam questions going back to the 1970's, courtesy of my old English teacher, and I often set them for students. The texts haven't changed much either. This year I have been teaching Paradise Lost Book 9, King Lear, Othello, Dr Faustus, and Animal Farm, among other texts. The first two were books I studied for A level back in the 1960's.
What has changed is that back then if you were dyslexic, dyspraxic or, as in my case, just plain disruptic, no allowance was made. Now, students can get extra time. Some have readers or scribes. Or both. And the rise of the internet has brought a whole new rise in opportunities to cheat, so students can only use clear pencil cases and bring unlabelled bottles of water into the exam room, as it is possible to download 'fake' labels with formulae on the back. Seriously.
We are all extremely vigilant, but even so, we had an incidence of cheating a couple of years ago. It is still referred to in hushed tones. It was during an A-level resit. The senior invigilator noticed a student's ruler was sitting proud from the desk. She picked it up, and several strips of paper with notes cascaded down. The student, who had joined the Sixth Form in Year 12 from a posh private girls' school was escorted to the Exams Office, where the 'evidence' was photocopied. Her father was then phoned. His only response: 'Oh, you caught her, then?' Unbelievable. Ultimate irony: she was resitting a Philosophy and Ethics paper.
Now I would never condone cheating in any form whatsoever, but the pressure students are under today is immense. We have had students NOT turning up to exams because, according to their parents, they are too stressed. In my day, I managed to score two unconditional offers to read English and Archaeology from London and York universities (two E grades). Wouldn't happen today. In fact some of the 'top' universities are now asking for A* grades. In certain subjects, namely Art, Design, and Creative Writing, they also expect students to have a blog up and running too.
Back then we left with a degree, the expectation of a reasonably paid job, and if you managed it correctly, no debt. I ran a baby-sitting business, and worked for John Lewis at the weekend and in the holidays, so I came out with money in my pocket. In many ways, I'd hate to be eighteen today. Which is just as well, because even with the huge advances in medical science and plastic surgery, it is extremely unlikely to happen.
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The pressure that these young people are under these days has got beyond ridiculous. As far as appearance is concerned, imperfection is not an option. Bullying on social media is rife and A* exam expectations can push some 'over the edge'. I would be interested to read the modern day equivalent of Jackie's Cathy and Claire problem page. I bet our problems at that age would seem pitiful in comparison!ReplyDelete
All good points, Ms Hedges. The pressure must be horrendous! And I'm amazed anyone dares to cheat with Harpendon's potential answer to a Hell's Angel warrior casting her X-ray eyes over them (love the idea of you invigilating in a brass studded leather!) But seriously, one question: School kids take many more A levels now than we did. I took three, my brother four, but that was exceptional. Now it seems they take five or more. How is it possible that they can do them to the same depth as under the old system? Is it a bit less, for example to bring them in line with exams like the European IB exams. Or do they work that much harder than we did?ReplyDelete
Most take 3/4 AS levels then drop one at A ..universities still ask for 3, tho the grades are much higher. The IB is a different beastie - students study on a more general level and a wider range of subjects.Under Gove, they will not do AS levels , and so be back to the old 2 year system. GCSEs is where things have radically changed: we took 8 max, now they can take 10 + .... which is very stressfull.Delete
I feel sad that so many have high expectations of what they are going to do...and life will not live up to them..ReplyDelete
That's true. Exams themselves have always been hard but the pressure to succeed is greater now. It's awful when life just doesn't give them the break they need to fly.Delete
Great post Carol. I think you'd look magnificent in a leather bikers jacket.ReplyDelete
The very whisper of the word 'exam' and my body goes into spasm as my brain scuttles off to find refuge in calmer areas such as reminiscences of the endless hours of agony I endured during labour! Indeed, whilst your goodly-ish self continues to explore the joy of invigilating I continue to flagellate myself over opportunities lost thanks to nerves getting the better of me, equating in all my learned studies being replaced by a pulsing tapestry of nothingness!ReplyDelete
However, I could never have cheated ...regardless of the complexities of the paper before me...I've never understood the want to attain credit that wasn't earned...it would leave me quite flat...in fact during a particularly arduous history exam, in my youth, as panic set in and senses fled...rather than even considering cheating, I drew a very fine looking horse complete with rider resplendent in whatever garb was suitable to the historical point in question...my art tutor would have been quite impressed...unlike my history tutor, sadly........ah well...such is life. Btw I can see you in black leather jacket with studs on the back reading...'Hedges Hellions'...yep..I approve...
Argh - this has brought my university finals back in a Proustian rush!ReplyDelete
I still remember the horror of exams. I also remember being told off for talking whilst invigilating- embarrassing!ReplyDelete
Haha. Fun post, Carol. I have to say that invigilating was easier in my day, though. We were allowed to read.ReplyDelete
You're a busy lady. I think you should definitely have leather jackets etc. I have to say I don't remember getting excessively stressed or worked up during my studying years, I ahd moments of panic when things were due in (last minute girl) but aside from that nothing out of the normal. From what I observe of my friends teenagers they seem so much mord stressed out especially at exam times, I don't know if they are under more pressure or what.ReplyDelete
Although I don't envy them now as things are different now with regards jobs, buying homes etc. I think we need more apprenticeships etc.
It's so tough for young people - but we make it even more difficult when we keep telling them they must work hard, get good grades, pay to go to uni because that's the only way to get a good job ... and then let them find out the hard way that we fibbed and there are no jobs so they'll be saddled with debts forever.ReplyDelete
Quite ..for the first time last year, I had students who'd decided NOT to go to uni -didn't see the point. Sad isn't it.Delete
Great post Carol, my son began his GCSE exams today but I think I am the stressed one! He takes it all in his stride but I have cold sweats thinking of my own exams. I showed him your post and he was very impressed with the water label idea...hmmm!ReplyDelete
Honestly,,, tell him NO!! It will be checked... we also have wipes to remove anything from their hands!! Good luck to him!!Delete
We have invigilators at uni too - they won't pay for outsiders where I work. I was let off this summer as I took on quite a bit of extra teaching but I guess I'll be on duty for the resits in August. We also sometimes have to invigilate students who can't work in the main room. I actually quite nejoy the peace and quiet.ReplyDelete
Used to be a high school teacher and when I took my daughter into school when her kidney flared up in the middle of GSSEs and they were short I ended up in the exam room!
Perhaps I'll do some when I retire in two years' time.
Enjoyed your post Carol. I've been teaching in Secondary schools for 35 years, I had a proper job before that in the Chemical industry. I remember the endless hours of invigilation; I used to use them to write poetry! We examine our children to death these days. Far too much time is spent on monitoring progress at the expense of moving the students on educationally. I'm retiring at the end of this term....maybe I'll go back and do some invigilating. I might even write some poetry.ReplyDelete
I used to be a secondary school teacher - now retired... Definitely write some poetry..it clears the mind and soothes the soul!! Fiction does that for me! Thanks fro dropping by.Delete