Thank God It's Friday

16th February 1996 at 00:00
Monday: It's mock-GCSE week and the English department is first on. My grown-up Year 11s positively creep into the hall, each with a little mascot, pale expression and see-through bag of polo mints. Touching really.

The same can't be said of the staff, who persist in whispering and gesticulating from the back as I do my introductory pep talk.

"What is the matter with them," I wonder, filled with a sense of occasion and my own importance. Turns out, shortly after I have delivered an authoritative "You may now start," that we have given them the wrong paper.

Embarrassingly obvious, because this is - or was supposed to be - a pre-released exam. I do my best to explain why, as a special test of their skills, Year 11 have, on this occasion, been given a paper they have never seen before. Only one clever boy stares at me suspiciously.

Tuesday: Glancing into a classroom mid-morning, I spot a mixed group of 15 and 16-year-olds arranged as if for some latter-day Roman feast: clothes in disarray, feet on desks, sandwiches and crisps scattered on the floor. I assume a frown.

"What's this? Why aren't you people in exams?" "Oh, it's OK, Sir. We're on Study Period."

These dratted "Study Periods" are this year's solution to last year's problem which was "Study Leave", spent hanging about at home. There is no answer really: the various timed exams simply will not fit in without leaving bits and pieces of teaching groups scattered about the place. I wonder wistfully how many professional adults are disciplined enough to work through a whole day on their own business without having someone tell them what to do.

Wednesday: Only minor confusion has arisen as a result of my little faux pas at the beginning of the week. Year 11 had been expecting to write an article on neighbours with dangerous dogs. The question they were given concerned a family who kept pigs in the house. In both cases the dangerous dogs and the pet pigs had human names: Sally, Peter and so on. Not unreasonably, several candidates incorporated their prepared knowledge about dogs with their answer about pigs. The prize paper features a sort of extended metaphor in which the pigs seem to represent carniverous policemen hunting for escaped talking rottweilers. I resolve to apply the exam board's ruling that we "give credit to candidates' imaginative responses where relevant . . ."

Thursday: I woke this morning from a dream in which the inspector from the exam board made a spot-check at our school. This official is, in truth, a rather stout gentleman, but in my dream he was an enormous, pink, pot-bellied boar, dressed in tail-coat and pin-striped trousers. He paced gruntily up and down the aisles peering over children's shoulders.

Today I must get on with marking my own papers - for me probably the most loathsome aspect of the job. The best approach is to set targets and rewards: mark five papers before break and you can have a Mars bar - that sort of thing. In the staff room fellow teachers are puzzled by the growing row of smiley-face stickers on my desk saying "Good Reader" and "I completed my work today", but I need all the motivation I can get.

Friday: At lunchtime there's a departmental meeting to standardise marks. To my dismay, I find that no two teachers have approached the task in the same way. The first has applied national curriculum levels, which enmesh rather nastily with the examination grades favoured by the second. The third has stuck to marks, but seems to believe in encouragement-at-all-costs and has given almost everyone in a rather dim class grade A. The fourth, on the other hand, is very proud of his own personal mark-scheme, encompassing every possible aspect. Each of his candidates has a result such as R27Alpha.

On the way home, I meet Karen from year 11 emerging from the last exam. "Have we got lessons next week, Sir?" she asks. "Are we going to do something new?" "Yes, Karen. You've made my week."

Mike Hawthorne is head of English at a school in Shropshire

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