Massage is the key to good exams

IT WAS bound to happen. At The Trinity School in Leamington Spa children taking their GCSEs are being offered stress-release management to help them pass the exams. It doesn't take long - 20 minutes is quite enough, said Monica, the school's stress-release manager, who apparently hit on the idea when she was teaching drama in Coventry. Her students immediately started achieving better exam results and though she does not make the same claim for her Leamington pupils, she has no doubt it will help their overall development into finer human beings. How?

Well, said Monica, it gives them inner strength and enables them to draw on their own resources and work out their own problems. How?

Well, said Monica, first she makes them close their eyes and imagine they are lying on a beach, and then she takes them on a journey during which she goes round the class giving the children individual Indian head, neck and shoulder massage. After this, she shows them how to give each other traditional Indian head, neck and shoulder massage and then, for the last five minutes, if they want to they can ask questions. Quite often they don't. They just sit talking to each other or weeping. What are they weeping about?

"I don't know," said Monica, "I never pry."

What might be even more rewarding would be for Monica to teach stress- release management to the parents, particularly the mothers, of those pupils about to take their GCSEs. In my experience it's parents who get stressed about exams. On the other hand, parents can sort out their own stress release courtesy of the self-help courses advertised in women's magazines.

I've tried them all, and much good it's done me. Most of them, now I come to think of it, started off with the instructor telling us to close our eyes and imagine we were lying on a beach. One relaxation course consisted of our lying on the floor listening to wave music, with the odd seagull thrown in to lighten things up. We all fell asleep.

A beach is everyone's idea of paradise, said Monica, which is why she uses it in her package. Some of the children she sees have complicated home lives and need the chance to escape. The journey she takes them on to help them escape always ends up in a golden cave with a mysterious figure giving them a gift wrapped in golden paper. What sort of gift? The children choose their own, said Monica. It is usually something precious, like diamonds or rubies, or maybe a sword encrusted with diamonds and rubies. Once somebody asked for a pen.

Only once? That's the difference between Monica and me. If I'd been taking those GCSE students on a journey it would have been to the Natural History Museum, with a notebook, a pencil and a packed lunch. Do Monica's pupils ask her for practical tips on taking exams, such as how many hours' revision to do at weekends, or whether it's worth reading Othello for the first time before breakfast on the morning you sit your English exam? I remember volunteering to test one daughter on vocab the evening before she took her French GCSE.

"What's house?" I asked.

"Maison," she said.

"But is it masculine or feminine, le or la?" I asked.

"I don't know. We haven't learnt about that yet," she said.

The reason modern children need to manage their stress, advised Monica, was that today's exams are more difficult. When we were young we just learnt everything by rote and if you had a good memory you sailed through. Now the emphasis has changed; children have to use logic and reason. True, they can take in dictionaries and calculators and set texts, but if they haven't learnt how to marshal their thoughts and relax, they won't pass. They won't pass if, like the child taking maths GCSE beside my son, they arrive armed not with a calculator but with the TV remote control. That really did cause stress.

The problem in our house is trying to convince the kids that taking 10 GCSEs is important.

"What about your friend John Richie's son," they chant. "He never got any exams and look at him."

My friend John, whose son's nappies I used to change, would regularly regale me with rueful stories of the lad's academic progress. Or lack of it. He was mildly dyslexic, couldn't write a coherent note to the milkman, left school at 16 without a single exam, odd-jobbed as a barman, then wrote a film script. "Oh yeah," I said. Next time I saw John, he said someone had bought Guy's film, Strip, for pounds 2m. "Oh yeah," I said. Last time I saw John he was on his way to the premiere of his son's film, which is called Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. No offence, Monica, but the simplest way to cut out stress is to cut out the GCSEs.