The X-amination Factor

Rows are forecast across breakfast tables this morning as parents try to persuade teenage children that their English exams are more important than the X Factor.

Scottish heads are furious that the ITV show scheduled its first auditions for 10,000 hopefuls in Hampden Park football stadium yesterday, the day before the Scottish equivalent of GCSE English. The second round, involving thousands of hopefuls, is due to take place today in the same venue.

The rector of Dingwall Academy, Graham Mackenzie, spoke for many when he said: "This is appalling. I have seen a copy of the letter the children have been sent. In big bold letters, it congratulates them for being selected. It tells them this is their first step on the road to stardom and that this decision may change their lives. It also tells them to rehearse and practise to impress the judges.

“These children are coming to the end of a two-year course. They have all sat a lot of internal assessments. But if they don’t turn up to the exam they will fail the whole course. I wonder what the real chances are of getting anything as valuable as a qualification if they turn up to the audition instead. But they are at an impressionable age and this will be causing rows across Scotland. I am worried about the children who are going to go, but I am also sorry for the ones who would give their eye teeth to be there but have a more responsible attitude.”

He poured scorn on the suggestion by the show’s production company, Talkback Thames, that children successful in the first round could come after 4pm to the end of the today’s audition, after the exam.

“That is all right if you live in Glasgow. The exam finishes at 3.20. They don’t seem to realise that it is, for instance, four hours in a car from here to Glasgow. I would question their grasp of geography. Do they know how big Scotland is? There are also several standard grade papers on Wednesday morning.”

This is the first year that the contest has been open to 14-year-olds and over. Mackenzie said: “This could have been quite exciting for them. I am not agin it. I am only agin the timing. They say they have to do this in April – well the children have just been off for two weeks for Easter. I just don’t think they had a clue that our exams started so much earlier than down south.”

Sara Lee, press officer at Talkback said: “We have had double the number of applications this year and so we had to bring the first auditions forward. We can’t pick a date that will suit 158,000 people. Minors have to attend with a parent or guardian. They can only audition if they have already applied. We would never advise someone to miss an exam to come to an audition. Like I say, it is the responsibility of their parent or guardian.”

The Guardian
Tuesday May 6, 2008