Cutting it fine

The success or epic fail of today was entirely reliant upon the vagaries of UPS and the Royal Mail – I really needed them to deliver my projects in time for me to get to London before 17:00. This was a dumb situation to get myself into, but into it I nevertheless got, and my inability to do anything other than wait made for a spectacularly annoying morning.

I didn’t sleep much last night, and was up pretty early, glancing out of the window every few seconds for any sight of a UPS van. My secondary project turned up in the standard post, which was a relief, but the big project – the one I’ve been working on for 4 months – was more important. I really wanted to get it in on time.

As the morning wore on I figured out ways to stay longer at home. If I caught the train at Leamington I’d have an extra half hour…and if I got the later train, then a taxi to uni, I could get another 15mins…or what about driving to London? But the latest reasonable time was 14:15 – anything over that and I’d really be pushing my luck.

I spent most of the morning pacing up and down, trying and failing to distract myself. A Parcelforce van gave me false hope by stopping directly outside – maybe UPS had farmed it out to another company? No.

Midday came and went, and I decided it was time to email my teacher. Should I submit low-quality inkjet prints of the book’s pages today, or submit a high-quality book tomorrow and lose 10% of the marks? Then I realised that if I went to London they’d have to re-deliver tomorrow, and I’d be in the same situation. So should I lose 10% of the marks for my secondary project too?

My answer to this was to repeatedly mutter ‘fuckmonsters’1 and generally bemoan my existence while staring grumpily out of the window. At which point there was the brown flash of a UPS van. It slowed down, as if looking for my flat…then buggered off.

Then came back. Thank the FSM. It was 12:45.

For obvious reasons I’d already written the evaluation of the finished book, and I was rather hoping it would match up to my expectations. After a brief and spectacularly explicit hunt for some scissors I discovered it did, so I emailed my teacher a ‘belay that message’, ran for the next train, got to London, got to uni, handed everything in, and the relief was ridiculous.

Now, obviously this was all a massive overreaction. These things are not that important, and I got myself far more stressed than was necessary. But I did anyway, and I am certainly not making that mistake again. That was not fun. I’m also aware I caught a huge break – UPS could have delivered any time up till 20:00 and, hell, the book was in Eindhoven thirteen hours before it arrived at my flat. Still, it turned out ok. Exhausted now. One more project to go.

  1. I love Twitter []

Orals may be dropped from language GCSEs. Good.

The government is considering dropping oral tests from language GCSEs as they are ‘too stressful’, according to the BBC. The idea has been slammed by Ex-Ofsted-chief Chris Woodhead, but then Chris Woodhead’s disdain is traditionally a litmus test for good ideas, so that counts as a plus.

Is it a good idea? I don’t know enough about child psychology and the goals of the education system to make an informed decision, but I will say this: my German GCSE oral was by far the most terrifying experience in my school career. I was in the top set for German, with a great, non-scary teacher who prepared us for literally months before the exam, and I worked hard to get ready, yet I still remember the abject terror of waiting for that half-hour session. It’s on a par with my driving test as the most nervous I’ve been, and its memory affected my A-level exam: I wasn’t going to put myself through all that again, and I forced myself not to care. It was one of the few times I ever completely flunked an exam1.

For this reason I certainly don’t think the idea is ‘stupid’, as Chris Woodhead says. Other reactions on the page include ‘life is stressful’, which is pathetic: in my experience life is very rarely that stressful, and when it is we hate it. Or someone else claims the point of learning a language is to speak it, so what use is a GCSE without a spoken test? In reply I’d question whether such a stressful situation can possibly give an accurate account of a student’s ability – wouldn’t it be testing their ability to deal with (unrealistic) pressure as much as their language skills? Plus, they only want to scrap the exam itself – teachers would still assess oral language skills in other ways. The reactions overall suggest a fair amount of ‘I went through it, why shouldn’t they?’, which I despise.

The report suggests that teacher assessments could adequately replace the oral exam. Sounds reasonable to me. The more I think about it, the more I’m in favour.

  1. past tense as there are no exams in my degree – ra! []