Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Full on Clearing Experience – my diary!

21st August
It is Sunday afternoon and after 5 days of full on A Levels week followed by working on Saturday at the University Open Day I woke up this morning aching in places I didn’t know existed!
I met our new team members in team Laura on Wednesday after returning from lunch. I am now sitting next to Royalle, who hails from Jamaica and will start the final year of her BA Events Management in September. The phones rang pretty constantly that day and on arriving home I was so tired that, after eating early, I was in bed at 10 pm with the hope of having a good sleep ready for the onslaught of A Level Results Day.  I knew it was to be a 12 hour phone marathon. I lay in bed and tossed and turned still awake at 1 am. I kept worrying that I wouldn’t know anything, that I would be too slow in dealing with the volume of calls, that I would write the clearing forms out wrongly – all sorts of silly things.  When I finally dozed off it seem only minutes until the alarm went off at 6am – aaahhhh!
Him-at -home insisted on driving me in, worried that I would fall off my bicycle with exhaustion.  He dropped me by the Greenwich Observatory enjoy a refreshing early morning walk down through the Park.  You really should try it.  Greenwich Park early on a summer’s morning with no tourists, the city glistening in the distance behind the beautiful buildings of the uni –  bliss!  It was a lovely way to start a day which soon went bonkers.  People began ringing in at 7.30 and when we began taking calls at 8am, it was one call after another all day long.  The UCAS website crashed immediately.   I later heard that it had been taking 400 hits per second.  We have a rule that we cannot allow phone to ring more than twice.  Royalle and I hardly spoke to each other as we just took call after call.  At 12md we had 15 minutes break.  I ran down the eight flights of stairs to grab a coffee and order my lunch then ran back up again.  It was head down again until my half hour  lunch time at 2.40.  The chicken salad that Terry in the café had put aside for me was so welcome!  Another coffee and we were off again.  We were offered overtime and, thinking of my course fees that needed paying very soon, I volunteered.  I finally put the phone down at 10.10 that night.  I was very grateful that him-at- home had insisted on collecting me!  I returned for an 8am start on Friday and the whole day was just as busy.  People rang in saying they been trying to get through for a day and a half while others were so anxious they could hardly string two sentences together.  One guy rang asking me to find him any course for which he met the entry criteria!  We offer courses  that vary from nursing to electronic engineering,  from psychology to equine studies  so i told him that I needed a bit more to go on before I could advise!
I had another memorable call this week from Rubin who had not met the conditions of his offer for business studies.  As we talked about what he could do, I looked at his GCSEs  and  A Level results.  He had studied separate science subjects at GCSE and had passed them all at A-C but things had gone rather pear shaped at A levels.  When I asked him why he had done a business BTEC, he explained that his teachers thought he wouldn’t manage sciences at A level because he was dyslexic.  His family, that included a couple of accountants and lots of business people, had encouraged him to do business studies but his heart really wasn’t in it. As we began to talk about science, he became quite animated, telling me how much he loved it.  I told him about the extended science programme where he could do a foundation year to give him entry into a variety of science degrees.  His excitement was infectious.  I encouraged him to read up about the programme and call me back if he was interested.  A couple of hours later he rang back really happy to have found this route into the subjects he loved so much.  The next day Dan in Reception told me he had been in to hand in his certificates and had talked about how pleased he was at the prospect of being able to go back to study science instead of business.
I was delighted to give some applicants the news that we could offer them a place.  One guy offered to give me a big hug!  Hearing the excitement in these students’ voices was absolutely lovely.  At other times I felt quite sad to tell applicants that they were unsuccessful in their applications.  Although we want to recruit students and fill all our spaces, it is not helpful or, in my view right, to take students who do not meet the required grades for the courses – they will struggle and we risk setting them up to fail.  I had a call from Jamie who had failed his access to Higher Education course and tried to convince me that he could manage a three year degree even though he ‘had lost motivation’ to complete the access course and would come in to do a test to ‘prove he could do a degree’.  I explained that there is a great deal of support for people doing access courses and by the time you get to uni  you are expected to be self-motivated and get far less ‘hand holding’. The test to prove you are ready for uni is to actually pass the access course!
24th August
Well I am still up and running but my voice has nearly gone so I am becoming addicted to my throat sweets!  Most of our courses are full and ‘the criteria’, our online clearing Bible, is updated four to six times per day.  This tells us what courses are still taking applications, what the entry criteria is and how to process applications, ie whether we can offer places or whether we have to pass the applications to the academics.  The phone calls are easing off a bit now and I have had time to make colourful flowers and name badges for our team.  Our colour is lilac and I could not find lilac glitter anywhere so I’ve had to make do with lilac tissue paper and purple sparkles.  We are meant to ‘theme our team’ and there have been some interesting ideas.  Sharat is the only male in our team and the feminist part of me objected strongly to one suggestion that he could be Charlie while we could all be his Angels!  My alternative suggestion that he be the beast while we be beauties did not go down well at all! 



25th August
It is GCSE results day today and i am wondering if my friend got the C in maths she needs to take up her conditional offer to start a PGCE for secondary teaching Art and Design.  Although she has a fine art degree, an MA and 20 years experience working with community arts projects, she still needs to pass her GCSE maths!  We have had to turn away applicants with more than enough level three UCAS points because they do not have A-C  at GCSE in maths and/or  English.
My voice is continuing to deteriorate today and I am developing a nasty cough.  One caller was very sympathetic and suggested I go and have a nice spa!  I had another call from a woman worrying about sorting aout a problem with her son’s application.  I explained that due to the strict data protection laws we could only give information to the applicant. She became quite upset saying that he was cycling around the UK and she could not get in touch with him.  I explained that students are over 18 and have to take responsibility for their applications and as i talked she suddenly broke in and asked  “Is that you Alice?” 
Very surprised I answered  “Yes!  Who’s that?”
 “Catherine”
“Hairdresser  Catherine?”
“Yes!”
How random is that?  There are fifty of us taking calls and I get to talk to my hairdresser!

*Please note: Most names have been changed to protect anonymity.

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