In her 30 years as an invigilator, not much got past Mrs Fulton

11th June 2010 at 01:00
Holyrood Secondary bids farewell to Frances, one of the country's longest-serving exam officials

When the last exam candidate hands in the last exam booklet for this year at Glasgow's Holyrood Secondary today, the school's chief invigilator, Frances Fulton, will sign off her last Higher after 30 years.

Frances, from Burnside, has been an invigilator at Scotland's largest secondary school since 1980 and chief invigilator for the last 27 years, making her one of the country's longest-serving exam chiefs. Now she's retiring after seeing thousands of pupils through their Standard grade, Intermediate, Higher and Advanced Higher exams.

"I've loved every minute of the job, but now that I've reached the age of 70," she says, "it's time to hand over to someone younger."

She'll miss the challenge of leading the school's team of 40 invigilators and setting out, collecting and sending off the exam papers of up to 400 candidates a day over the six-week exam period at the 2,000-pupil secondary. "There were far fewer exams and candidates when I started," she says. "Today, there are several different levels of exam papers, disclosure checks, support for children with additional needs and much more administration. I'm a chief invigilator trainer with SQA and invigilate the school prelim exams as well."

Frances believes invigilators have a poor image, despite being one of the hidden success stories of Scottish schools. "Many teachers, parents and pupils don't realise how much organisation goes on to make the exams happen each year," she says.

"There's more to it than the person who watches over pupils in the exam hall. We have to make sure we have the right number of papers on the right day at the right time and the right candidates at the right desks. Even in a well-organised school such as Holyrood, there are 41 different languages spoken among pupils, so you have to be on your toes to ensure that they get the right support."

She has come across a few cheats over the years. "The majority of pupils sit their exams, take them seriously and don't cheat. But I've come across pupils sitting exams on behalf of another and, of course, there's our constant battle against mobile phones and i-Pods, to ensure that no one can look up answers.

"One girl had written the answers on her leg, and kept lifting her skirt to read them. I had to be careful how I wrote the report as it was one of our male invigilators who spotted it and was embarrassed reporting it!"

Another candidate arrived for Higher chemistry with his dog, and she had trouble removing it from the exam hall, despite the fact that the boy's teacher insisted the dog would have a better chance of passing.

Then there was the report on the girl with a wasp down her blouse in the middle of an English exam whose screams disrupted the candidates, especially the boys at the desks around her who were enthusiastically volunteering to help remove it.

"To be a successful chief invigilator, you do need a sense of humour," admits Frances, "but you also have to be fair, able to work with every teacher in the school and juggle several problems at once. I'll miss that."

But Frances, who is a mother of two grown-up children, and a deacon at Lloyd Morris Congregational Church in Castlemilk, is looking forward to a rest from SQA deadlines and the sheer scale of organising the exams in Holyrood. "My husband, John, is also looking forward to a break from me coming home letting off steam after a very busy day, such as Higher English. He probably knows as much about exams as I do!"

A former history teacher who gave up work in 1969 to look after her family, Frances paid tribute to the three Holyrood headteachers she has worked with as chief invigilator.

"I started under the larger-than-life Peter Mullen, then worked with gentlemanly Finbarr Moynihan and for the last five-and-a-half years it's been the excellent current head, Tom McDonald. They've all been superb in supporting me and I've been made to feel part of a school that is a real community and which cares for each and every one of its pupils."

Mr McDonald is full of praise for Frances. "She reminds me of a general in the way she organises our exams, for it's a massive operation. But she's a very kind general who has the interests of the pupils at heart and when things do go wrong, as inevitably they do with the number of candidates we have, she never flaps but simply solves the problem.

"She'll be greatly missed as she's been a huge asset to the school. All of our pupils who gain so many passes each year in their SQA exams have her and her hidden army of invigilators to thank for ensuring that everything goes smoothly."

Jacqui Faulds, SQA's head of appointee management, says: "For nearly three decades, Frances has given her time and expertise to generations of candidates at Holyrood Secondary. She is one of our longest-serving appointees - if not the longest - and we wish her well.

"Each year, we call on nearly 15,000 appointees to help us set, invigilate and mark the exams. This year over 160,000 candidates in 533 schools and colleges throughout the country sat their SQA exams and this would not be possible without the input and support of people like Frances."

And will Frances be cutting all links with education? There's a twinkle in her eye as she says: "I admit to failing my Higher maths when I was at school. I might have a go at sitting behind the exam desk to see what it's like to be a candidate after all these years!"

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