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How it feels to be a human guinea-pig

Gary Creech is a guinea-pig of the system described by Professor Hargreaves as "elaborate, extensive and expensive", writes Julie Henry.

The 17-year-old is one of the year group to be given the first national curriculum tests at seven when 600,000 children spent a morning watching floating oranges. This year, the same group is the first to live through the Government's controversial post-16 reforms.

At 11, Gary, took the key stage 2 test. It was overshadowed, he remembered by the 11-plus, which is still a feature in Kent, although he vaguely remembers the handwriting paper.

The test at 14, however, is ingrained in his memory. "I was more worried about those than about the AS-level exams. The result decided whether you went up a class or down and I was in the top group so I could only go down."

GCSEs meant juggling 20 study books at the same time. He was particularly worried about getting a good grade in maths and English. "Without those, you can't do anything," he said. Eight A to C grades later and Gary can still remember a sense of anticlimax.

"Mum and dad were really pleased and were ringing my nan to tell her, and I was sitting thinking 'I only got one A'."

Like thousands of other students, the AS experience for Gary was made harder than it should have been with exam clashes and a production line-up of exams. "We had English and politics back-to- back. In politics I had just over an hour to write six essays. My hand was still shaking when I came out. I was writing in my sleep by the end."

The teenager has his second A-level year to look forward to next. After that perhaps Gary can resume the five-a-side football that became an exam casualty.

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