Tans take second place to exams

Adi Bloom

Layla Doyle had assumed that she would spend the last days of her summer holiday lounging at the beach with friends, sunbathing and eating ice cream.

She did not anticipate that she would be spending stressful days nervously waiting for her first GCSE result. Fourteen-year-old Layla is among five Year 9 pupils from Sandfields comprehensive, in Port Talbot, who sat their design and technology GCSE this June, two years earlier than anticipated.

"Usually I just spend the summer working on my tan," said Layla. "But this year all I could think about was how I had done in the exam. Every time I talked about going back to school, I would remember that I had to get my result first."

In addition to sitting the exam early, the four girls and one boy also completed the qualification in one year, rather than the usual two. They specialised in graphics products, designing letterheads, business cards and stationery.

Their coursework portfolios, submitted alongside those of older candidates, were singled out for praise by examiners.

Geoff Eyears, head of design and technology at Sandfields, claims that pupils benefit greatly from the chance to sit exams at a young age.

"Children respond well to extra responsibility," he said. "The pressure comes in taking all their exams at once. If they could sit a couple of exams in Year 9, a couple in Year 10, and the rest in Year 11, they would get much more done."

Most schools offer pupils the opportunity to sit only maths or computer science early.

But Mr Eyears claims that creative subjects are well-suited to younger pupils: "It's not just sitting down and copying from a book. They have to produce something.

"And it's good experience for them to sit exams. Having taken a GCSE is an achievement, regardless of the results."

Layla's classmate, Ceri Rigdon, 14, agrees that exam experience is likely to be useful when she sits the remainder of her GCSEs in two years' time.

"I didn't really think about the pressure until I got to the exam room," she said. "Then I realised, oh my God, I'm doing a GCSE.

"Waiting all summer for my result has also been stressful. But it will all be easier next time. I know what the stress feels like, so I'll be ready for it."

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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