Thank goodness those people at examination HQ have their finger on the pulse and know what is in everyone's best interests.
This year a new exam regulation from the JCQ insists that "prior to the examination commencing, centres cannot hold revision sessions or coach candidates in the designated examination room(s)".
A masterstroke. This warm-up slot had become increasingly popular with schools and their students – a hundred or more candidates were able to gather together, work in groups, discuss a few typical questions and generally "feel a bit more ready" (as a couple of students shamefacedly confessed to me last year) for the exam they were about to take. A couple of subject teachers also wandered around them like drug-pushers, offering last-minute tips about exam technique, sometimes to a small cluster and sometimes to the entire group from the front. Students found that advice "helpful", too. It was clearly a terrible thing to do.
Given a large number of students involved, the new ban will effectively see an end to all of this disgraceful pre-exam prep, as the main exam hall was the only feasible place where schools could hope to get away with this outrage. They will simply not have enough space or relevant personnel to split the cohort up and replicate this heinous crime in several different places.
It obviously had to be stamped out – it’s impossible to be sure but these warm-ups may well have helped some students achieve a better grade. No-one wants that. Let’s hope other enterprises follow JCQ’s pioneering approach here.
Take concert orchestras, for instance. Many of them plainly perform far too well after warming up together just minutes before they then play. They should have sorted out themselves and their instruments long beforehand. If any of them really have the need for late practice, they should nip outside into the streets.
The same goes for rock bands, often being allowed to practise their repertoire on the very same set on which they play later that day. I love a great live concert as much as the next person, but only if I know that the late preparation took place somewhere else.
Similarly, professional football teams invariably come out for a few minutes before a match and start loosening up and practising their passes, shots and saves on the same turf on which they then play. This, again, is little short of cheating.
We teachers are just as guilty. During breaktimes I quite often use the same classroom to run through the next lesson’s set of images, clips and notes. This is obviously helping me far too much. From now on I will find another classroom to practise in, then come back.
Alternatively, perhaps the new JCQ diktat is not such a good idea after all. Maybe this new regulation is, in truth, just the latest extreme move in the long-running 'results' game being played out between schools on the one hand and exam authorities and the government on the other – with over-pressurised schools finding a new way of securing a marginal gain, the authorities then blocking it. It’s a game that has been going on ever since league tables came along.
With exam performance being so excessively important for heads and teachers these days, the JCQ plainly appears not to trust schools always to run those last-minute warm-up sessions in a fair and honest way. Either that or they think such sessions are just too helpful. Either way, it tells a sorry and rather desperate story about the absurd, exams-obsessed educational backcloth in which we all operate at the moment.
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire