'When oh when will the exam classes go?'

4th July 2008 at 01:00
You wait all year for the education carousel to end only to find you're busier than ever, says John Gallagher
You wait all year for the education carousel to end only to find you're busier than ever, says John Gallagher

"After the war, when we are married, shall we live in Italy?" the star-crossed lovers ask each other in Captain Corelli's Mandolin. They list their dreams for after the war: "write a concerto ... train to be a doctor ... get our own motorbike."

Secondary teachers have their own version of this hopeful vision. It's called "After the exam classes have gone." It keeps them going through the mountains of paperwork, revision classes, marking and planning. It's the same picture of sunlit uplands, a better, freer future - like the Emerald City at the end of a road paved not with yellow bricks, but with exercise books.

And now, in July, it's upon us. Years 11 and 13 are no more - and where is the fabled free time you hoped for? Fast evaporating before your eyes.

The calendar proves to be a minefield of hidden traps. Report deadlines are buried in the long summer grass like tripwires. End of key stage assessments have to be finalised, moderated, inputted. Development plans rear their ugly heads like hydras.

Then - for those moonlighting as examiners - when the exam classes go, the exam scripts arrive. The postman brings me parcels of work by other people's pupils to judge. My evenings vanish in a haze of red ink and black coffee. But economic necessity requires it. As my six-year-old son remarked: "Oh good, we can afford to go to France now. Daddy's exams have come."

Then there's the Year 7 induction to organise and taster sessions for the new Year 12s. There's a new national curriculum too, and new A-level specifications to master.

The sad truth is that the exam classes never really go. As one lot passes into history, the others are already arriving. Education is a carousel, and it revolves at a dizzying pace.

The only way to pause is to step off. Then they can write on my tombstone: "Finally, for him, the exam classes have gone."

John Gallagher is head of English at Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls.

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