At the chalkface: Revision!

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

Universities are, apparently, offering “therapy dogs and rabbits” to soothe the savagely stressed. Read that sentence again. Read it and weep.

I trust your Easter exam revision workshops, boot camps and Saturday booster lessons have gone relentlessly well.

We cruise from the febrile cramming of April into the sheer hell of the May exam season. You can’t do too much. The more hours you put in, the more Level 9s you’ll get out. This is the received wisdom.

Barnaby Lenon, former head of Harrow and present chairman of the Independent Schools Council, strongly concurs. His charges, carefully selected and privileged, have always done spectacularly well. Why? A prodigious amount of Easter revision. He advises nothing less than seven hours-a-day, a solid 100 hours, 50 topics in two-hour bursts.

So it may already be too late.

“The best GCSE and A level results don’t go to the cleverest students, they go to those who revised in the Easter holidays.”

You don’t have to be bright, thoughtful, imaginative, creative, you just have to drudge like a drone and deliver the knowledge.

Exams are now little more than information retrieval. The syllabus has become a perpetually retrospective treadmill. My school had mock exams from the 9th year. We did mocks for mocks for mocks. It was a mockery. The pupils didn’t get educated. They did exams.

This is, of course, very bad for mental health at all levels. Anxiety, depression, insomnia, anorexia are now common from primary to higher learning. Universities are, apparently, offering “therapy dogs and rabbits” to soothe the savagely stressed. Read that sentence again. Read it and weep.

I spoke to a cross section of pupils about Lenon’s edicts. “Unbelievable. Nonsensical. Harmful,” said most. Few were positive.

Cordelia Swansong from Leafy Bowers Private School: “I concur wholeheartedly with Mr Lenon. I worked diligently over the holidays. I will work ferociously until June. I get up at 4am everyday and am on target for 15 Level 9s and a nervous breakdown. Daddy’s going to but me a Ferrari when I succeed.”

Sidney Drudge from an Academy of Excellence: “I haven’t really been out since the 7th year. I’ve sacrificed my life to the system so that I’ll pass and be considerably richer than you,” said he through a fog of diazepam.

Dave Mania from a Trauma Unit, was emphatically negative: “What exams?”

But it is, as ever, to Nigel Molesworth that we must turn for wisdom: “Exams? I diskard them. I care not a jot. Mr Lemon is a plage on all us tinies any fule kno revission is waist of time. 1000 hours a day won’t help you if youre a dull swot or partiallly stupid.” Well said Nigel! But the spelling, Nigel! Woeful! Alas, you won’t achieve exam success.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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