Just as the run-up to this summer’s GCSEs reached its most stressful peak, 2,000 Year 11 pupils were taken on a trip to the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End.
But they weren’t there to see The War of the Worlds or We Will Rock You. Instead, they were attending a mass revision session organised by the rapidly growing schools network Partners in Excellence – the PiXL Club.
This year, the group ran its biggest exam technique sessions yet, targeted at pupils on the C/D borderline.
Thousands of pupils from about 400 schools participated in the huge maths and English tutorials, which also took place at the Harrogate International Centre, which fits 2,000 people, and the 1,800-seater Colston Hall in Bristol.
'It's real you-can-do-it, believe-in-yourself stuff. Everybody left on a high'
The £20-a-head sessions, paid for by schools, were designed to ensure pupils knew the best ways of crossing the crucial C-grade threshold. Participants watched as teachers went through “walking-talking mocks”, using practice papers to give step-by-step guides on how to complete the questions.
“It’s about teaching kids how to make sure they can maximise their answers,” said PiXL’s deputy chair Will Smith. “We’re saying to them, ‘This is what the examiner is looking for. So to get the most marks, this is what you’ve got to do.’ ”
Mr Smith said that the advantage of staging such large-scale events was that far more students could reap the benefits of being prepared for their exams by the very best teachers who were “utterly top of their game”.
Schools were willing to make very long journeys – including, in one case, a 300-mile round trip from Cornwall to Bristol – to benefit from these teachers’ expertise.
But the revision days were as much about motivating and encouraging the teenagers as drilling them in exam technique.
“Bringing the kids together like that generates a can-do attitude in itself,” Mr Smith said. “When you have that many kids in a hall and you’re firing them up, not droning on, it makes the kids go through a process of thinking, ‘Blimey, I can do it’.”
The tutorial days ended with a half-hour talk from a motivational speaker. “It’s real you-can-do-it, believe-in-yourself stuff,” Mr Smith said. “Everybody left on an utter high.”