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Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The younger generation

For the past two days, and the next five weeks, I have been working as an exam invigilator at a nearby secondary school. I have done this type of work before when we lived in south west London at a well known Catholic boys school. This school is mixed, with pupils of both genders, so it is a little bit different, but the basics are the same.

It is an interesting job which suits me while I look for something more permanent, as it is well paid, at almost £9 an hour and offers the chance to help the younger generation, who are after all the future for all of us. It is them after all who will be paying my pension, long after I have retired. The main exam season is of course from the middle of May through to the end of June, but there are mocks and re-takes at other times too, mostly November, January and March, so the potential is there for quite a bit of work if you want it. The school have rostered me to work almost 80 hours during the next five weeks, which will certainly help my finances.

Regulations state that there needs to be a minimum of one invigilator for every thirty children, but both the schools that I have worked at try and manage more than that, at one to every twenty-five. This means that if you have very large exams, you will sometimes be working with up to 10 other invigilators but at other times when you have a handful of special needs children, who are usually dyslexic or physically disabled, you will be on your own. The children are not allowed to have mobile phones with them during the exam, or any other electronic devices, but the invigilators have access to a phone to summon help if need be.

If you are working in a team with others. then one of the more experienced invigilators will act as lead. They supervise the rest of the invigilators, start the exam and tell the children when they are finished.

A shift normally starts half an hour before the exam begins. The invigilators meet in the main sports hall to collect the papers, and then go and prepare the room. We have to make sure that clocks are visible and that certain notices regarding the rules are displayed. We have a seating plan with different coloured cards (according to which exam the children are doing - sometimes there may be up to 6 different exams going on in the same room) with the children's names on, which are laid out according to the plan.

The teachers normally get the children lined up outside and into the room. When the children arrive we help them find their seats, and make sure they have nothing on them which is contrary to the rules. Mobile phones are placed in cardboard boxes and given back to them at the end of the exam.

When they are all settled the head invigilator or sometimes a teacher, will start the exam, writing the start and finish times on the board and noting any children who have extra time. Each invigilator will normally look after a certain number of rows, distributing and collecting the papers. Once the exam has begun, we walk around the room being vigilant for hands going up which may be for any number of reasons. The children may need to go to the toilet, they may need a tissue, more paper, a calculator (if they are allowed) or to ask a question re the paper. We are allowed to give some help with where to write their answers, but cannot give them the answers or explain for example the meaning of words.

Once the exam has finished, we collect the papers and the cards with the children's names on and put them in order, sign the registers, and then deliver them back to the exam secretary's office. That is about the gist of it.

Invigilators come from all walks of life - some like me have part time businesses, some are students, some are former teachers, some have part time jobs elsewhere or work at several different schools.

The exam system has of course changed dramatically since I was at school, so much so that at times it makes me feel quite old. When I left school back in 1982, there were still two different types of exams - CSE's and O'Levels - I took a mixture of both. Now there are only GCSE's and there seem to be many more different subjects. Because the school I used to work at was a faith school, Religious Studies was compulsory; at this school General Studies and the Certificate for Preparation Towards Working Life are compulsory. These may seem like "soft" subjects, but when I read the questions for the latter in particular this morning, I was struck by how useful some of the information covered in this paper would have been for me when I first left school - questions on employment rights and legislation for example.

I am enjoying the job, but it is hard work, as you are on your feet all day and have to concentrate quite intensely for often long periods of time. Still, like I said, it is immensely worthwhile since it helps the younger generation in a highly practical way and offers the opportunity to talk to them about their plans for the future and really make a difference.

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