Friday, 30 March 2018

Some reflections on Good Friday morning.

Today is good Friday. About 11 or 12 years ago we spent the Easter weekend in Salamanca, staying in a small pensión overlooking the main square. This gave us an excellent view of the Easter processions, all of which went through the square. The downside was that we were woken at about 5.30 on Good Friday morning to the sound of a badly played funeral march as the Christ Crucified procession went past. The early hour certainly adds to the bleakness.

I wonder how many people get up these days to watch, or indeed take part in, such an early procession. According to a recent study 68.5% of Spaniards identified themselves as Catholics. However fewer than half of them ever attend mass. Judging by photographers’ windows many people still insist on their offspring going through he first communion ceremony, with obligatory white dress for the girls and something formal and often military formthe boys.

And this year in Spain a row has broken out as the ministry of defence ordered all military institutions to fly the flag at half mast over the Easter period to commemorate the death of Christ. Opponents of the idea say it goes against Spain’s secular constitution but a defence ministry spokesman said that flying the flag at half mast for religious reasons was “in keeping with tradition” and was “part of the secular tradition of the armed forces”. Quite how he works that out I do not know!

For most people in England it simply marks the start of a long holiday weekend. School holidays used to be arranged so that the Easter weekend came smack in the middle of the school holiday but nowadays it is usually the first weekend of the two-week break. This is an attempt to lengthen the winter term and shorten the summer term so that the school year is more balanced. I even remember one year when my college simply took the weekend off, went back to classes for another two weeks and then took a two-week break.

Barnaby Lennon, once headteacher at Harrow school has apparently been advising that GCSE and A-Level stud-nets should use the holiday period, the whole two weeks, to do revision for the forthcoming exams. He recommends 100 hours revision, around 7 hours a day - probably more time per day than some students spend in school and then doing homework during term time. “Good exam results are made in the Easter holidays,” he writes. “The best GCSE and A-level results don’t go to the cleverest students – they go to those who revised in the Easter holidays.”

Student reaction is, as might be expected, rather dismissive of the idea. “That’s unbelievable,” said one 17-year-old who is studying for A-Levels in Politics, Economics and French and is evidently shaken by the idea of seven hours revision a day during his holidays which have just begun. “It’s just nonsensical. No one could do that. It’s way too much. No one can concentrate by themselves for so long.”

Personally I am on the side of the former head of Harrow, although seven hours a day might be a bit excessive. The revision process should be starting to get into gear now. I used to tell mybstudents that butBut I don’t think my students really believed me. After all, they had part time jobs to go to and the college gave them a period of study leave prior to the exams. Clearly that was the time for studying! Easter holidays are for eating chocolate! Wrong on both counts, but I knew I was mostly fighting a losing battle.

So, partly in response to the cry of “No one can concentrate by themselves for so long”, partly to reassure ourselves that revision was really happening, my colleagues and I organised extra study sessions. And now I read that, aware of all the modern problems of stress, schools are also running their own stressbuster sessions, including yoga and resilience training to support anxious students. In the higher education sector, universities are offering therapy dogs and rabbits to try to soothe anxious students. Students can book in to go and stroke dogs and rabbits to reduce their stress - all the benefits of a let without any of the responsibility!

I wonder that my generation got through it all without all that support. Resilient baby boomers!

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