It may be boring but I want to be there

15th February 2008 at 00:00
We are approaching the exam season again and I'm full of regret - because I feel excluded. I know, like lots of other colleagues, that I want to be there - in the hall with my classes. My classes want me to be there too.

But I am not allowed. Instead, I have to employ strangers to do it, and the kids feel that they have been abandoned.

Did I ever really regard invigilation as an affront to my professional dignity? Not really. I could always think of better things to do with my time, things that were more productive. Let's put to one side the mind-numbing tedium. What we have lost is a fundamental duty.

It should be the natural conclusion to the work we do. We are responsible for the teaching programme that leads to this particular point, and I think teachers should be there. In a public exam the friendly, encouraging face of the person who has taught them can be so reassuring.

Many of us continue to feel that it is important to support our pupils. I am sure that by being there we can affect results - perhaps only marginally, but sometimes that can be significant. It is about creating the right atmosphere in which my pupils can flourish, being part of the process that will bring about success.

It is what we all want. After all, I taught them. If they can't do the exam paper, then perhaps it's my fault. I need to be there to show that everything is all right.

Our conditions document tells us that invigilation is "not a productive use of teachers' time". I am not sure about this. The job doesn't require a teacher's professional expertise, but it requires their background, and a level of understanding and sympathy.

Things happen in exams and often it is so much easier if they are dealt with by someone who is familiar with the candidate. Often the strangers we bring in to do invigilation are not terribly competent anyway. Teachers understand all those quirky bits of behaviour that could cause someone else alarm, and we do not overreact.

Darren does mutter. Ryan does grin. Ashley does shuffle about. And Anna always cries in exams. She'll be fine. Don't worry.

All sorts of things happen when pupils interact with strangers. We now have more problems as a consequence, more behavioural issues. There are serious sanctions for anyone disrupting an exam, but they are only implemented after the disruption has happened. We are the ones who are best placed to deal with the animal noises that spread across the hall at the end of a Welsh exam. It doesn't need to be a drama.

We should never underestimate the effect that we can have in exams. As in many things, teachers are the key.

Those personal connections with our pupils are the most important thing that we do, yet they are the least measurable. That is why I became a teacher, and I don't like it being dismissed.

John Sutton is a pseudonym. He teaches in North Wales.

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