No, not WASPS the acronym, the actual stripy buzzing stinging things.
Yes this is relevant to education – well, to the part of my role that’s about running external exams, anyway.
Last summer we had a swarm of wasps appear in the exam hall during the GCSE and A-level exams. This is not one of those things they have written procedures for in advance, unfortunately, and sadly, comprehensive though our school policies on exam-related matters are (I should know as I wrote’em) – we have sadly neglected to have one about wasps.
Anyway – the invigilators had to make a judgement call – endeavour to proceed with the exam, or evacuate (which would have meant keeping around 100 candidates in absolute silence somewhere or other until we could find suitable additional spaces and invigilators to house them). Since the wasps didn’t seem to be on the war path, but were mainly just staying up by the ceiling, staying put seemed the best option, and the invigilators developed their professional skills significantly by becoming expert at “silent swatting” when any of the winged menaces did descend. Of course, I submitted group “special consideration” to attempt to compensate the candidates for the disruptive effect of the background buzz and occasional appearance of a wasp at ground level.
Ever since then, everyone has been paranoid about wasps. The appearance of one wasp in the school – even if up on a curtain – has become the occasion for much weeping and wailing. Last week one of the little ******* appeared during the seriously high pressure admissions tests (which we really could have done without – those tests are highly demanding, stressful for the candidates and very high stakes, so probably about the worst thing to be distracted in).
Now obviously we do our best to get exam halls to be insect-free zones. We have had pest control people in to look for any places in which wasps or bees may be hiding out. But unfortunately, I don’t know of any way to completely proof a school against flying insects (or any other wildlife…. my predecessor as exams officer had to deal with a pigeon flying into the exam hall, and I’ve had complaints about “noisy ducks” – why don’t the ducks obey the silence notices, eh?)
Come to that, other external factors can be fun too – I remember in the first school at which I organised exams, we had a police helicopter landing about 50 yards from the exam hall – that was a wee bit distracting.
What’s the solution? I really don’t mean to be unsympathetic to exam candidates who I can see are genuinely distracted and distressed by things like this – they aren’t putting it on at all, and I hate that anything has affected them. But I can’t see how I can provide the sort of hermetically sealed environment that seems the only way to keep people happy. I do find it a little odd, too, that a generation who, generally, tend to do their academic work surrounded by an “always on” culture – devices beeping, alerts going off, music playing – seem to be much more readily discombobulated by exterior factors than did earlier ones who were more used to a stimuli-free environment for work. Is it about this expectation of perfection in every respect, perhaps? Not sure. But I do know, as an exams officer, that the number of “special considerations” I have to put in per year these days is a massive multiple of what I put in 20 or even 10 years ago, and it does worry me.