“The rest of your life depends on them!” threatens Ms Grim at a final 11th year assembly. Yikes! Without that “C” in English, you could soon be another poor derelict, sipping cider under Waterloo Bridge. Dear me.
Well, we’re once again in the thick of the examining season. The little mites must scribble for their lives in grim exam halls. What a dismal ritual. You may care to tick off this drear list – or not: the tension hanging like gallows, the big clock ticking as tots tick boxes, the wobbling desks with mascots and various religious relics, the arrival of The Paper from the Pentagon Vaults, your relief at guessing the dull questions, the pens scrawling the received wisdom about things like photosynthesis, metaphors, quadratics, tectonics, trade winds, cosines, subtexts, the Holocaust, foreign policies or Cartesian co-ordinates.
The invigilators’ shoes that squeak like dying mice, the bunkers pulling funny faces against the windows, the breathless panic of the tardy, cursing traffic jams, mute alarms and broken buses. And things forgotten: like pens, quotes, the English Anthology, compasses, calculators, exam numbers, set texts and the dates of kings and queens.
Let us pan along the aisles and pick out the more dramatic examinees: the “wot – me – worry?” faces of the less gifted, the “fair cop” faces of the bone idle, the plodding visage of Dennis “D Grade” Plum, his eyes pressed tight as insects, his cerebral hemispheres to the max, as he yet again trawls the Woefully Obvious.
And regard the Imploding Sensitives: insomniac Lily tearing her hair out, tranquillised Cressida doing nothing, Luke doing the wrong tier, Vlad doing the wrong section, Aisha doing the wrong question, Decibelle doing her hair, Crumlin doing his nut and Shaka doing his best to identify the subject. And Rhapsody is in meltdown and is escorted out sobbing, like a sectioned patient. Bang goes that Oxbridge offer.
And Dave Mania? He draws a cartoons of his teachers and scribbles – “I know I’m goin’ to heaven ‘cos I spent my life in Hell”. The hell of being measured?
Exams are a necessary evil. Most pupils will do really well. A very good thing. But I wish I could be the chief invigilator. My message? You are not a Measured Outcome. Exams aren’t fate. Don’t be frightened. And, anyway, things are getting so bad, they might not matter at all.