Monday, 6 June 2011

ESOL venues inspected - Tokyo & Tohoku fit for purpose

Tsuruga Castle 1Image by ijiwaru jimbo via FlickrOn Friday night, after ten and a half hours classroom time and a snatched conversation with my wife, I caught a few hours sleep on the sofa before catching the early bus down to Tokyo. I was standing in for one of our examiners who was unable to change his own schedule this morning. These things happen. I got a really stiff neck sleeping awkwardly on the bus :(  Should have taken the train.

My English friend Tim arrived at King's Road just as I got there, and we found school owner Trevor looking a bit more serious than usual, but professional as ever. It was soon obvious why - an inspector from Cambridge ESOL had turned up to monitor the venue's performance today. These are unannounced spot checks to make sure all the rules &  procedures are being followed. We welcome this quality control, as it is very important that the Cambridge ESOL brand is kept unblemished. It is important for our candidates as well as venues to realise that there are very high standards that have to be maintained. I sometimes think the inspectors could be a little more sensitive to the exams supervisors on what is already a very stressful day, though. Bit of a bull in a china shop.

Anyway, everything was very much under control. Tim and I conducted speaking tests for candidates at PET and then KET levels,as we had done together back in November (although then I'd lost my voice & was unable to interlocute!). He is very warm with the candidates which I think is important, as it helps them relax - something I need to remember.

An equally early start to Sunday, as I had to pick up Disco Paul to drive up to Aizuwakamatsu in Fukushima prefecture (about 100km west of Fukushima city). We made good time and could have a well-earned breakfast in Denny's before finding Stephen Holland's lovely little school up the hill. He already had the kettle on when we arrived, and he gave us a guided tour of Cambridge ESOL's newest venue in Japan; Windmill English Centre is the first to offer Cambridge ESOL examinations in the whole Tohoku region. Coming so soon after the uncertainty wrought on the region by events March 11th & subsequently by TEPCO, I think this is a marvelous example of commitment. Stephen's description of how strong the earthquake had been made Paul & I shudder - and we were still 2 hours+ drive away from the coast. So, hats off to all the school owners who have stuck it out,  the often under-appreciated, unheralded 'local' foreigners a who are going about business as usual without any fanfare. Paul & I felt the very least we could do was be there on time and show Stephen's students that they could expect the very same standard of assessment here as anywhere else in the world - London, Buenos Aires or Athens.
Olivia Newton-John at the Grand Opening of the...Image via Wikipedia
Annoyingly, Paul knew that Olivia Newton John was No.1 in Perth (WA, Australia) in December 1981. Don't ask how he knows - he just does! We were listening to a radio station from Perth on my iPhone as we drove back, trying to predict what the Top 30 would be. Disco Pants is rarely wrong! Good company for the 737km round trip today - 1,200 for the weekend.

Last word for all the candidates who took KET & PET this weekend - wish you the best with your results, which will be available online soon. Please remember to check your log in details.