Teachers don't need to watch the clock

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
Teachers no longer invigilate GCSE, AS and A-level exams. Is this a good thing, and how have they reacted? They have been largely sceptical. "It will never work," has been the protest cry of many. However, this has not been the case in most schools. But yes, there was much trepidation, angst and worry.

The truth is that teachers did little else than collect exam papers and equipment, spending the rest of the time watching the clock. The duty does not require a trained professional to do this. Generally, pupils are so engrossed that they barely notice teachers. Behaviour is often self-regulating in exams.

The other widely held claim is that interpersonal contact is lost with non-teacher invigilators. Are we saying, then, that invigilators do not have the necessary skills to form relationships with pupils?

In my experience, pupils soon start to relate to invigilators, particularly as they have probably seen them before in the mocks. Teachers have prepared the pupils for the exams. Provided they have done their job properly, the candidates will succeed. I can understand them being nervous about pupils' ability to tackle the exam paper. But the nervousness was also apparent when teachers invigilated.

One of the reasons, I suggest, that teachers feel threatened is that they used to be able to have a look at the papers. This is not allowed now. They can't give instructions at the start of the exam, making them feel especially anxious.

However, they could never influence the questions on the paper and, if taught well, pupils will know what questions to do and how to tackle them.

I accept that if pupils are really anxious they are more likely to approach their teacher than an invigilator. But teachers still have the power to tip off invigilators about particularly anxious pupils, asking them to be more sympathetic.

Many schools have used external invigilators for a number of years and the disaster predicted by some has failed to materialise. It proves that the time teachers used to spend on this function is now much better spent on teaching other children preparing for exams. Most invigilators are efficient, sensible and mature people. Indeed, many are former teachers.

I am certain teachers notice little difference on results day. Bringing "outsiders" in is a change for the better. I declare an interest here as I lead an exam invigilation team in a secondary school.

My message to teachers is, "Let your pupils go." You've done all you can and they will succeed. They are in safe hands with me, I promise. This is one area where the workforce agreement has worked. You just need to admit it.

So I suggest you make the most of that gained time and stop worrying. After all, I'm sure you don't miss the tedium of invigilation, something that is guaranteed to raise a yawn or two.

Jim Goodall is a retired teacher from Torfaen

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