It isn't the exams that worry me. It's the snakes

1st July 2011 at 01:00

I can't really get very excited about these impossible examination questions that have exercised the media so much this year.

The kids in my school have been wrestling with impossible questions for years. They sit and stare at a swirling mass of words which have neither shape nor meaning. They have the bewildered look of tourists who are trying to find the Tower of London while in possession of a street map of Paris. It can be hard to maintain a proper atmosphere in a religious education exam where the candidates must reflect on the meaning of awe and redemption, and instead are either swearing or sulking because you won't tell them the answers.

Of course, the exam season always brings its own entertainment. It is part of the rhythm of our year. The sun shines, it gets too hot in the examination room, and girls who can't answer the questions nag ceaselessly to go to the toilet. "I got women's problems" is whispered loudly at any passing male, in the expectation that they will crack and take them to the toilet to break up the monotony.

You dare not give in. Acknowledge the request at your peril. Let one go and the need will sweep like a virus across the room. Remember, there is nothing more humiliating than standing outside the toilet waiting for Demi to finish so you can escort her back along a corridor thronging with her mates. Keep the faith. Say no and try not to reflect that your career has come to this, vainly holding back an alleged tsunami of wee.

Corey turned up late for his geography examination this year. He thought it was in the afternoon and so had stayed in bed. But the exam was in the morning. It happens. We rushed a car to collect him and he arrived in the nick of time. But our efforts were wasted. Corey would not walk into the examination room because his hair was a mess. To be honest it looked no different to me, but unless we found him gel he was staying outside. In the end he had to do the exam in a separate room. We need every grade we can get. We have an inspection.

Lotus Rose did not do her exams in school at all. (You might think it odd that a child should be named after the Chinese takeaway. We no longer do.) In fact, most days Lotus Rose didn't do anything in school. Apart, of course, from beating up boys and setting off the fire alarm. Consequently she was invited to follow a different route to enlightenment. And as all pathways do, this one required some qualifications.

When Abi, the support officer, arrived at the house to invigilate the exam, she found the mother arguing loudly with the television rental man. He seemed to be suggesting that it was not acceptable to feed the pay-as-you-go television meter with the tokens normally used for supermarket trolleys. His unreasonable insistence on pound coins was agitating Mum, so she waved Abi inside. Abi noticed that Tyson the snake was not in its tank, which is always a worry.

She tracked Lotus Rose down to her bedroom, where she lay on the bed listening to loud music and smoking. Part of the ceiling had come down and the carpet was crunchy with plaster and other less clearly defined debris. Abi turned the music off. "What is it today then?" It was maths.

Lotus Rose farted and wandered downstairs. The music was off and the television inoperative. An unaccustomed silence settled upon the house and Lotus Rose did the examination as if it were a race. Some exams required considerable thought and were thus two-fag exams. Maths, however, was one fag and a can of lager, tops.

Incidentally, those of you at an earlier stage of your career than me will be reassured to learn that a Foster's tinny has never featured specifically on the list of recommended accessories for a maths exam, with most experts preferring a scientific calculator. But this was Lotus Rose and this was her world. Ten minutes and she was done.

Her speedy approach to the exam did not worry Abi. An empty snake tank does help to focus the mind.

"Where is Tyson today, Lotus Rose?"

"I dunno. Having a break. Gets bored in the tank."

It was time for Abi to leave. In that unusually silent room, any noise, however slight, could have been Tyson coming home.

Names have been changed. Geoff Brookes is deputy head of Cefn Hengoed School, Swansea.

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