Invigilation

The Armstrong and Miller show – Alan Armstrong, Ben Miller – has finally been given some seriously top space on TV – the 9.30 slot on Friday night. I watched it last week, the first time I’d switched the machine on for a fortnight, having left myself a reminder. So obviously I am keen. I’m not sure who their target audience is, apart from me. It is hard to believe that parodies of Flanders and Swann (‘The Gnu Song’ etc.), for instance, would appeal to anyone younger than me.

But they must appeal to teachers of a certain age, and  either they have scriptwriters who have been teachers, or one or both have dabbled – because they always include sketches which pick up on some of the absurder aspects of working in education (‘at the chalkface’, oh how I hate that tired old phrase). In this case – and I suspect this will be a running gag – it was invigilation. A very bored teacher was shown watching a group of examinees with their heads down – could I just digress and say how much I also hate the faddish phrase for ‘an early warning’, much in use, which is ‘a heads-up’, it’s horrible.

Anyway. Invigilation is one of the most soul-destroying experiences, unless you are a teacher who doesn’t like teaching, for whom it may be an addictive respite. You have to stare at up to 400 people, with special responsibility for say 50, and – well, and what? Fetch them paper. It could be that something serious would go wrong, so you have to be there, and of course, they might cheat. The person next to me in Politics O-level cheated: he had his text-books with him, and read them brazenly. He is probably now a senior civil servant. But I never saw anything of concern or alarm. My only difficult moment came when invigilating a Maths exam, and discovered that there was a student from the Far East, whose parents had not realised the cultural implications of his first name – his surname was Ho, but his first name was Ivan. It was unworthy of me, but I had to work hard not to laugh, which you can’t do during invigilation, which has the same etiquette as a church, only, without the service or the church.

The Armstrong and Miller gag had the invigilator go to the back of the hall, and, after a bit of thought, suddenly do things like turning cartwheels. As the show went on, this built up to nine teachers standing on each other’s shoulders. Very clever observation of what tedium can make you do.

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