From outside she could hear the faint sounds of tennis balls being thwacked about the court, and the splashing of people in the swimming pool. Inside, all was silent.
The girls had filed in to the room in their usual orderly manner, and expected to take their seats with a minimum of fuss. The numbers weren’t in the usual places on the desks. Panic was averted as the register was called, and the girls took their seats accordingly.
Outside, birds were singing, and bees buzzing. Inside, all was still silent.
“You are now subject to the examination room regulations and I draw your attention to the notices posted inside and outside the room.” She had lost count of the number of times she had heard the instructions for candidates.
“You should not have in your possession any unauthorised material of any sort and all work must be your own. You are not allowed to communicate with anybody in any way. You must not engage in unfair practice or distract others in any way.” She was sure she could recite the words in her sleep.
The papers were given out. As each girl received hers, she would fill in her name and numbers in the spaces provided on the front page.
A hand was raised at the back of the room. “This paper says ‘Geography’, and I’m taking ‘History’ today!”
Another hand was raised. “I’m supposed to be doing A-level Physics, not GCSE Business Studies!”
As more hands were raised around the room, the muddle was sorted out. Finally, everyone had the correct papers.
Outside, the wind was stirring the leaves on the trees and bushes. Inside, all was silent, once more.
“The exam is one and a half hours long. You can now start.” Surely that should be “may”? What would Miss Annersley have said?
The great room, supposedly still silent, was filled with all the little sounds that indicated an examination was in progress. The gentle scratch of pens on paper. The rustles as pages were turned. The slight thud as a rubber was returned to the desk. The pitter-patter of calculator buttons being pressed. The occasional cough from a candidate.
She looked up from her writing. Eighty heads, dark and fair, were bent over their desks. Everybody was busy. All was well. She could relax for a moment.
A hand was raised by the window. “Could I borrow, a calculator, please?”
Another hand went up at the back. “My black pen’s stopped writing. Is there another one?”
A third hand at the front. “Please may I have some more paper?”
As hands were raised all around the room, and pens, pencils, calculators, rulers, rubbers and paper were supplied to all who needed them, she wondered how she could ever complete her own paper, let alone how anybody else could get their work done.
Suddenly, there was the sound of beeping from somewhere. As she tried to discern the origin, she heard a ringing from the other side. This was followed by tinny sounding electronic music from several other directions. Finally all the mobile phones were collected, and turned off. At last, peace reigned once more.
A hand was raised again. “May I have a glass of water, please?”
Another hand went up. “I need to go to the loo, please.”
More hands were waving. “The sun’s getting in my eyes!” “I don’t understand the question!” “My desk has a wobbly leg!” Somehow, all of the requests were dealt with, and everybody carried on with their work.
Only another quarter of an hour, now. The end was in sight. She heaved a sigh as she saw another hand go up.
“I thought we were supposed to finish at half past three. It’s later than that now.” She heard the explanation that they had started late, due to the mix up, so would be finishing at a quarter to four, just as it said on the board.
“You have five minutes left!” Thank goodness for that. She wasn’t sure how much more she could take.
“Stop writing and put your pens down now. Check all details are completed on the front of the paper. You must remain under examination conditions until all papers are collected and you are told you may leave.”
Swiftly, the papers were collected in the right order. Then another disaster struck. They were dropped all over the floor. Faces fell all around the room. There was no help for it. They would just have to sit and wait until the papers were picked up and sorted out again.
At last everything was ready, and the girls were dismissed.
“Would you like another cup of coffee, Mrs. Entwistle?” Len came to with a start, and realised that she was sitting in the school staff-room after lunch. She smiled at the girl in front of her. She supposed she should describe her as a woman, really. She was in her early twenties, and had started her teaching career that year. However, Len remembered when the girl’s mother had been a pupil. She had seen so many girls over the years – many were daughters and grand-daughters of former pupils of the school.
“Yes, please, dear! I think it might be a good idea, if I’m to stay awake this afternoon!” Len held out her cup to be re-filled, and looked around her. So much had changed, and yet, in many ways, it was still the same.
The school, which her Auntie Madge had founded all those years ago, still flourished. Miss Annersley had set very high standards, and Miss Wilmot had carried them on. When Len had succeeded her as Headmistress, she had introduced some changes, of course, but the standards had remained just as high. Now her successor was in charge. The girls still had an excellent education, and left to go out into the world, having learnt much more than mere academic subjects. Although those academic qualifications were at the forefront of everyone’s minds at the moment.
Len hurriedly finished her coffee, before going to the office to collect her papers. It would soon be time to start the next examinations. As an invigilator, Len would always do her best for the candidates. She knew that the next stage of their education was dependent on their results now. She just hoped her five minute doze hadn’t been a premonition of what was to come that afternoon.