I thought that rather than divert the previous thread any further from its origins, it would be a good idea to start a new thread about accompanying for exams. It's been mentioned quite a few times recently in various threads.
It does seem to be the case that there are a shortage of accompanists. Even within this, there are accompanists and pianists, and a pianist does not necessarily a good accompanist make.
It's clear to me that a CD or backing track is not an accompanist. They are both useful for a wide variety of things, but so long as exams seek to test interpretation and musicality they are useless. On a CD or backing track, you get a set performance prescribed by the player (or by the letter of the music); if you want to slow down, speed up, pause, go quieter, go louder etc. etc. you cannot do this (well, you could try, but you'd be in competition with the CD!). This means there is really no room for interpretation; each performance will be more or less identical, certainly in terms of expression and interpretation. If the Board were to start allowing CDs in conventional grade exams, at any level, they would need to rethink what they were assessing.
As an accompanist, there are several issues which come back time and time again. Firstly, pupils and parents are often not made aware at the outset that an accompanist will be required for the exam and that there'll be a charge for any rehearsals and a charge for the exam. Too many teachers seem to mention this at the very last minute leaving no time to find a suitable accompanist and no time to practise. Consequently, this gives accompaniment rather a bad name; it's too often seen as an expensive nuisance which is forced on pupils and parents at the last moment, usually when they're thinking "haven't I paid enough?!"
Secondly, so many instrumentalists come to me having never played with a 'live' accompanist. Even for those who've done exams before, they've often not played with an accompanist since the previous exam. Many teachers do not play the piano these days and so pupils have played only with a CD or unaccompanied. It is often a shock when they meet with a live accompanist to find that actually they are responsible for their performance - there's no CD to guide them, to keep a steady pulse and to remind them when it gets louder and quieter. They're often thrown in, all too suddenly at the last minute and it makes for an uncomfortable and negative experience all round. Like any part of learning an instrument, these are skills which need to be built up over time.
It is my view that learners should develop the skills of playing with an accompanist, all the more important if they're going to take exams and perform. But, this shouldn't just be something which is done at the last minute before an exam. We could argue that's another expense, but really it isn't. If learners are able to get in occasional sessions with accompanist as they're learning (particularly as they're progressing through the grades), far fewer rehearsals will be needed near the exam - being accompanied for the exam is just a natural progression from this. I now offer accompaniment sessions for all learners who just want to spend half an hour or an hour every so often playing the pieces they're learning with an accompanist.
As for costs, a good accompanist can make or break an exam or performance, and believe me, I've seen many broken! We should all do what we can to make the experience as positive as possible. Teachers need to be up-front at the outset about what accompanying will be needed; if they can recommend one and give an indication of the cost, then all the better. If the teacher doesn't play themselves, then encouraging occasional sessions with an accompanist is valuable. I've done several sessions recently where a teacher has booked me for a morning or afternoon and pupils have just come for 30-45 minutes just to get used to playing with an accompanist, regardless of whether they are doing an exam or not.
As with everything, of course there's a cost to be met, but, for many, a good accompanist is an investment in the future. As learners progress to the higher grades, they will really value building up a relationship with an accompanist they 'gel' with. Obviously, I try to keep costs down as much as I can, but equally, they have to be realistic. I am up-front about the costs though and I think pupils/parents very much value knowing this at the outset and being able to plan for it.