Summer marking madness

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
Marking. Hate it. It dominates my life as a teacher of English. I am never on top of it and spend ages moaning about it as an avoidance tactic.

So, I surprised everyone when I agreed to train as a GCSE exam marker. What was I thinking? Clearly, the onset of the summer holidays lulled me into a false sense of reality. Was I thinking at all, on the verge of madness or just a girl who can't say no?

I attended days of training, which only served to fill me with dread. I met the woman marking "in secret" after her partner forbade her from doing it again. I listened to tales of woe from the chief examiner.

Heard the one about the vicar who didn't mark any of the scripts and the police had to be sent to his house to retrieve them? He refused to open the door and posted the scripts back one by one out of his letterbox.

How about the moving house mystery? The person who moved house, took everything including the light bulbs but left a neat pile of scripts sitting in the middle of the front room.

Or what about the scripts in the canal routine? They were spotted bobbing along and had to be rescued by frogmen.

One afternoon found me in the surreal situation of being in a hotel bedroom with six strangers, squashed up by the trouser press and a pile of standardising materials where the bed should have been.

Hour after hour slipped by, marking. The piles never seem reduced, just mocking in their presence.

By day three, I was already behind on my imposed quota, with weeks to go. I contemplated claiming for repetitive strain injury or at the very least flattened backside syndrome.

I marked mindful of the fact that I should not do so in a public place.

Apparently, the media hunger every summer for a juicy marking scoop. I pictured deranged, desperate journalists lurking in bushes with long lenses and checked my patio carefully.

Each mark of the pen determined some adolescent's future. Scary.

At the end of it all, what did I learn? That over 60 per cent of the scripts had candidates who did not know the difference between "you are", "your" and "you're", let alone "there", "their" and "they're". That teaching to the test is what it's all about. And that, despite the political rhetoric, education is a lottery of chance not choice.

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