A BURNSIDE woman has just retired after an astonishing 30 years as an exam invigilator.
Frances Fullarton signed off her last exam paper on Friday afternoon when the last candidate finished at Glasgow's Holyrood Secondary School.
Frances, of Victoria Road, Burnside, has been an invigilator at Scotland's largest secondary school since 1980 and chief invigilator for the last 27 years, making her one of the country's longest-serving exam chiefs. Now she's retiring after seeing thousands of pupils through standard grade, intermediate, higher and advanced higher exams.
She said: “I've loved every minute of the job but now that I've reached the age of 70, it's time to hand over to someone younger.”
But she says she'll miss the challenge of leading the school's team of 40 invigilators and setting out, collecting and sending off the exam papers of up to 400 candidates daily over the six-week exam period at the 2000-pupil secondary in Govanhill.
Frances, a former History teacher, feels that invigilators have a poor image despite being one of the hidden success stories of Scottish schools.
She explained: “Many teachers, parents and pupils don't realise just how much organisation goes on in schools to make the exams happen each year. There's a lot more to it than the person who watches over pupils in the exam hall.
“We have to make sure we have the right number of papers on the right day at the right time and the right candidates at the right desks.
“Even in a well-organised school such as Holyrood, there are 41 different languages spoken among pupils, so you have to be on your toes to ensure that the right support goes to the right pupils.”
And whilst she admits to coming across a few cheats over the years, she is proud to admit her and her team have smoked them out.
She said: “The reality is that the vast majority of pupils sit their exams, take them seriously and don't cheat but I've come across cases of pupils sitting exams on behalf of another candidate, and, of course, there's our constant battle against mobile phones and iPods, to ensure that no one can look up answers.
“I once had a case of a girl who had written the answers on her leg and kept lifting her skirt to read them. I had to be careful how I wrote the report on that one as it was one of our male invigilators who spotted the problem and who was very embarrassed reporting it!”
Frances also recalls a candidate who arrived for higher chemistry with his dog in tow, and the trouble she had to remove it from the exam hall, despite the fact that the boy's teacher insisted that the dog would have a better chance of passing the exam!
There was also the story of the girl with a wasp down her blouse in the middle of an English exam whose screams disrupted all the candidates, especially the boys at the desks around her, who were enthusiastically volunteering to help remove the insect.
She continued: “To be a successful chief invigilator you do need a sense of humour, but you also have to be fair, be able to work with teachers in every department in the school and juggle several problems at once. I'll miss all that.”
But Frances, who's a mother of two grown-up children and a deacon at Lloyd Morris Congregational Church in Castlemilk, is looking forward to a rest from SQA deadlines and the sheer scale of organising the exams in Holyrood. She added: “My husband John is also looking forward to a break from me coming home letting off steam after a very busy day such as Higher English. He probably knows as much about exams as I do!”
Holyrood head teacher Tom McDonald is full of praise for Frances.
He said: “She reminds me of a general in the way she organises our exams for it's a massive operation. But she's a very kind general who has the interests of the pupils at heart and, when things do go wrong, as inevitably they do with the number of candidates we have, she never flaps but simply solves the problem.
“She'll be greatly missed by us all and she's been a great asset to the school.”
Jacqui Faulds, SQA's head of appointee management, added: "For nearly three decades, Frances has given willingly of her time and expertise to generations of candidates at Holyrood Secondary. She is one of our longest serving appointees - if not the longest - and we wish her well in her much-deserved retirement.”
So will Frances be cutting all links with schools and education? There was a hint of a twinkle in her eye as she said: "I admit to failing my Higher Maths when I was at school myself. So I might just have a go at sitting behind the opposite site of the exam desk to see what's it's like to be a candidate after all these years!”