It's exams time once more. The cavernous school gym, which in an hour will accommodate the best part of 100 nervous 16-year-olds, has been set out with chairs and, on the desks, a new set of laminated card labels. The lamination is to stop graffiti. I notice a couple of the old, non-laminated versions, so I gather them up. I look on the back of one and am immediately reminded just how stressful exams can be. Instead of an obscenity or the name of a rock group, one word is inscribed on it: "Mum".
My turn to invigilate in the hall today, which, for this session, will accommodate the less academic among our students. Apart from the hard-core truants, who never appear, the place is dotted with boys and girls who would rather not be at school and have spent most of the past five years making that plain. However, one boy puts his hand up and tells me, verging on panic, that he cannot do one question because he was away when the topic was studied. The boy was suspended at the time for a serious assault, but he now looks so upset - almost in tears - that I console him, feeling more like his mum.
The member of staff in charge of cover and invigilation approaches me before our first exam. She startles me by saying that she has been instructed by a senior colleague that heads of department are not needed to start their own subject exams. An early glance at one of the papers suggests that the same idiot who came up with that idea has also written the questions. A boy whom I have coaxed to grade C level over two years tells me at the end that he has attempted all the questions: seven instead of three. I want my mum!
I am officially invigilating this morning. Just after the session begins, a colleague enters the hall and gives me a "special considerations" form to complete. I discover that the father of one of our boys has walked out on the family this morning. I keep a discreet eye on the boy for the next two hours but he is a model of industrious self-composure. His mum would be proud of him.
Tutorial time and, while I check homework diaries, several of the students are looking through handouts that need to be taken home. The fact that they are intended for parents must have a subconscious effect as, finding something he doesn't understand, one boy calls to me to help him out. Much hilarity is caused among the rest of my tutor group when they hear him call me "Dad". Still, given the pattern of the week, he could so easily have got my gender wrong as well. Small mercies.
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