Common Entrance and Exam Week ... 

In the 14 years I have been teaching, I have never known a Year to be as calm about Common Entrance as the Form 1s at Belhaven. There is no doubt that they had prepared themselves well and, if I may say so, been well prepared by the teaching staff too.
I’d like to think that the new desk beds and furniture in the dormitories may have had something to do with it – reports from the Housemaster of the Boys’ House and Housemistress of the Girls’ House suggest that there was a “sensible” amount of revision going on in the evening.
The late half term also helps. I am utterly convinced that keeping the CE candidates here for the week leading up to their exams keeps them calm. I’m not saying that their parents would wind them up (much!) but rather that it makes far more sense for us to keep an eye on what they are doing in that final week rather than allowing them, and their parents, to get in a state at home because they are doing too much or, perhaps, not enough.
The ISEB (the examining board that sets Common Entrance) thoughtfully moved the start of CE from a Monday morning to a Tuesday, in order to give those who have the early half term a day to get their pupils back ‘in the zone’ before the exams start. This led some of the more traditional preps to abandon the late half term. Early reports are that no one enjoyed it – staff, parents, children – and some have already declared that they will be reverting to the late half term next year.
The extra day for us simply meant that the children could all enjoy that final weekend before exams – they had a lazy breakfast in pyjamas, a massive brunch at about 11am, sailing at Whiteadder and surfing on the Bay and then they all made and cooked their own supper (kebabs, burgers, bananas stuffed with chocolate) on barbecues in the grounds – CE didn’t even get a passing thought!
Apart from the slight change in the timetable, there was really no way of knowing that it was exam week. There was an air of tranquility on Tuesday morning as the whole school settled down to their first exam, an atmosphere that remained until the last script was handed in on Friday, and beyond.
One might have thought that the end of exams would be marked by some sort of exuberant celebration but the Form 1s simply tidied up the exam hall and went back to lessons. Such was the normality of it all that my Director of Studies, a veteran of countless CE campaigns, turned to me and said, “Have we really just had Common Entrance?” – there was no stress, no panic, no tears or tantrums, just calm.
Whatever one thinks of the Common Entrance syllabus, this experience should not be dismissed. To be able to sit one’s first ever set of public exams in such a composed manner will be of untold benefit as they come to their future exams – iGCSEs, A Levels, Degrees, and so on. This is preparation (what a preparatory school is meant to do) at its very best.
Exams over, we all headed off for a very well deserved late half term break. The only down side to this is that it starts to feel like it is the Summer holidays, even though we have another two and a half weeks to go. The CE candidates were forced to wait until late on Thursday before I was able to ‘phone them with their results.
The fact that all the children got into their chosen schools, with exceptional grades across the board, is great, but not in the least surprising. They were well-prepared, they’d worked hard and therefore approached the exams in a very relaxed fashion. The results were a foregone conclusion. I applaud their individual achievements but it is the experience of it all that will have benefited them the most.
The whole school returned on Monday morning and headed straight off to their respective year group camps, which is why I am sitting in an eerily quiet, empty school. They are back on Wednesday when the school will come to life for the final two weeks of term, and what a busy stretch it will be:
The Royal Highland Show; Dress Up As Your Favourite Book Character Day; Patrol Swimming; IAPS Athletics; Scots Opera Project – the Magic Flute; Jupiter Art Land; Cricket & Rounders v Craigclowan and Cargilfield; Leavers’ Guest Dinner; Wimbledon Picnic Lunch; Just a Minute Final; Fathers v Sons Cricket and Mothers v Daughters Rounders; Summer Concert; Leavers’ Evensong; Pease Bay; Tennis Finals; Superstars; Leavers’ Dares (?!) and Prize Giving.
I shall write again when it is all over.
That is all.

Henry Knight, 22/06/2017