Revision class is a rightful ticket to the prom

27th April 2007 at 01:00
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's school in Oxfordshire

We were supposed to feel sympathy for the girl in the news recently who was banned from going to her end-of-year school ball. Her parents have already bought the gown, hand-made in China. "All" their daughter has done wrong is to refuse to attend the school's compulsory after-school GCSE revision sessions.

I see no helpless Cinderella in this tale. The girl has a choice, and her parents are wrong to support her defiance. At a school where the five A*-C grade figure has risen from 39 per cent to 93 per cent, it seems fair that it should continue to make revision-class attendance a passport to the prom. Much as we may feel distaste for an education system so driven by exam results, we can hardly blame a head for playing his hand as effectively as he can in the crucial final run-up to exams. The threat of blackballing the absent "revisionists" is one of the few incentives that really talks to pupils at this time of year.

We all know that those twilight revision sessions are fairly pointless without such compulsion. Make them at all voluntary and the only pupils to turn up are the ones who least need them.

Besides, having seen the photograph of the girl dressed in her gown, I fear she would have been in for a distressing ball, despite her good looks. For while there are some 16-year-olds who look dazzling in the grown-up world of gowns, black tie and elaborate hairdos, there are others who merely look distinctly peculiar.

Some of the less developed boys slouch with the gauche, drowning demeanour of a poorly trained adolescent waiter working at a decaying hotel. Many a pretty girl turns up as a fussy-haired frump from the bad old days at Laura Ashley. Other girls somehow effect a mutton-as-lamb look, surely a calamity for an adolescent.

So for every three belles at the ball, there will be one belle going through hell. Her gawky appearance colours her feelings about everything else about the evening too. That is what it's like when you are 16.

This bright, enterprising, attractive girl with the slightly-too-regal dress would find more of the wild party spirit by attending her revision classes. These extra sessions develop into surprisingly convivial, amusing and strangely joyful affairs. They may lack the prom's hip-hop music and a smuggled-in bottle of vodka, but the teacher often more than makes amends with a few soft drinks and a nice packet of jaffa cakes.

Revision romance may be in the air, too. Girl from one side of the timetable sometimes meets boy from the other for the first time at an after-school study session - and the rest is history, then maybe maths, then science and so on.

Many a healthy long-term bond is born out of these febrile weeks of recapitulation of formulas, causes, consequences and conclusions. It's not stretch limousines at midnight but the revision prom is just as unique, just as unmissable.

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