It was supposed to be a festive holiday, but not for all the 14-year-olds I know.
They were being chivvied into revising for exams at the beginning of January. Not just any old exams, but proper GCSEs. And in key subjects like maths, English and science.
None of them wanted to swot up, incidentally. And if they felt pride at having been singled out as clever enough to do something others won’t do for another two years, it didn’t show.
It was mostly their parents who were wearing, like a badge of honour, the fact that their child had been decreed better than someone else’s.
Schools claim encouraging brighter kids to sit GCSEs early keeps such kids motivated and challenged in a curriculum designed for children of all ability levels.
It is a growing trend. According to recent figures, one in 10 pupils sat their maths or English at 15 or under - a 37 per cent increase on previous years.
Am I alone in thinking this is all wrong - and that children are taking far too many exams and tests?
They seem to be being taught how to pass exams rather than a broad understanding of the subject, let alone an enjoyment of it. Is this really what education is supposed to be?
How can it make sense for a GCSE - a certificate of secondary education - to be taken when pupils have barely begun that stage?
How can any child, no matter how clever, be expected to get as good a grade at 14 as they would with a further two years of schooling, not to mention maturity?
Most importantly, it’s added pressure. Why can’t we let a 14-year-old just be?
Their hormones are kicking in, they are finding out who they are, what they want and don’t. It cannot be a good time to thud a load of exam revision sheets on their shoulders and start making them sweat about future prospects a very long way away.
On parents, too. Home life becomes dominated by getting children through exams, which is hard enough when they’re 16.
Plus, it seems so divisive; what about the 14-year-olds deemed not bright enough to be fast-tracked?
Not all kids up their game when they see they are being out-performed; they feel not good enough.
At 14, that could shatter self-esteem. And kids change so much. One deemed average at 14 could well have found his or her mojo by 16.
I am worried this is not really singling out the brightest kids. Early exam sitters I know (all girls, incidentally) vary in intelligence.
The more Year Nines urged to sit a GCSE or two, then take more later on, the more kids will just end up with 12 GCSEs apiece instead of eight - and no one will be any better off.
Who really benefits? Schools, I’d say. They can’t use early sits to boost their exam success ratings, but my, those who have scores of kids sitting exams early are going to shine in their Ofsted reports.