Smell a rat? No it's a perfume allergy

Exams are not pleasant, especially for adults. David E Norris reveals some of their problems HEY ho, the examination season is almost over. Most attention has gone on the plight of teenagers suddenly forced to cram for GCSEs or A-levels, but thanks to the wonders of the Learning Age, there is a bigger picture.

Joining the six million adult learners this year was a whole new cohort, who had to gear up for their first taste of the testing culture. Previously hidden, largely defeated, they are from that section of society that has learned to keep its head down and not expect much ... until now, that is.

In these touchy-feely times,these learners have something quite novel going for them: the examination boards have undergone a profound attitude shift. This is the listening, as well as

the learning, age and every board will try its best to accommodate students with all manner of

difficulties. And because adult life is so complicated these days

these difficulties are many and varied.

Below is a selection of messages that were passed on to an examinations officer working at a lifelong learning centre in north Manchester. They all refer to students who were about to take their first exams since returning to learning:

"Mrs K needs to sit at the back of the room to avoid disturbing others. She has to stand up every quarter of an hour because she has a spinal problem."

"Mrs H, who suffers from claustrophobia asked me if she could sit the exam at home. She has heard that it might be possible to have a home invigilator, but she doesn't like the idea of having to go to the toilet with that person just becaue she may have hidden a book in there."

"Mrs W wants it to be known that she is allergic to perfume. Could she sit well away from other women wearing perfume?"

"Mr W is deaf, but still wants to take the listening part of the test in Spanish. He cannot hear the tape when it is played but he said that if the tutor reads out the questions, he can lip-read and then reply."

"There is a student in Mrs C's class who suffers from acute anxiety. If she has not arrived 10 minutes before the exam is due to start would the tutor go round and collect her?"

"The Jewish girls from the seminary would like you to write to the examining board to ask them not to include many topical questions because they lead a very sheltered life. They will be arriving by taxi and have asked that no men, for example, the caretaker, should be around."

"Mr F has asked for all his exam papers to be printed on blue paper because he can pick out the writing better that way."

"Mrs C learned today that the friend who sits next to her will not be taking the word-processing exam. Mrs C copied everything her friend wrote because she only speaks Chinese. She would now like an interpreter."

"Mrs B's teenage son has been entered as an external student. She now says that he has behavioural problems and is likely to disrupt the group."

On the day of their exam, each and every one of these students was wished the best of luck. But I have a feeling that it was the invigilators who needed it most.

The author is adult education co-ordinator for Bury and former area principal of adult education in Batley, Dewsbury and Heckmondwike

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