Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Education Soapbox

An eensy-weensy little bit of a rant this week I’m afraid.  The news of changes in our education system, again, had me seeing red and screaming at the TV and radio.

‘England's exam system needs further changes,’ Education Secretary Michael Gove has told MPs.  And plans are being made to return to a two tier ‘O’ level and ‘CSE’ style exam.  Mr Gove is reported to be preparing to replace GCSEs for England from autumn 2014 and also to bring in a simpler exam for less academic teenagers.

How many times do we need to keep changing our exam system for yet another one that doesn’t work and fails our children?

The opinion that the current GCSE’s are ‘too simple’ and are ‘dumbing down’ infuriates me and many other mothers I have spoken to whose kids have been part of them.  Let’s put all those kids down after they’ve slogged their guts out to get good results, shall we?  I can categorically state that my son’s GCSE English exams were far harder than anything I tackled at ‘O’ level - endless coursework culminated in exam essays that were so constricting, the kids were totally drilled in what to say and how to say it.  Any ‘thinking outside of the box’ was quite simply not allowed.  If my son had come up with the most enlightened thought on why Lady Macbeth acted the way she did, it wouldn’t have mattered.  If it’s not what the exam board want to hear, don’t write it.  How sad that endless ‘parrot fashion’ essays were being churned out for a pass.  And how hard for the teachers to have to get every child to see it their way, with barely a moment to go ‘off course’ - just to get them through the gruelling curriculum.

The old ‘O’ level system didn’t work, for many kids.  Some are crippled by exam nerves and a bad day could mean a fail for a child that had been obtaining straight A’s throughout the course.

I admit though that the 2nd tier of ‘O’ levels - the CSE - was a Godsend for me when it came to maths.  I certainly didn’t feel as if I was being ‘put down,’ there was quite simply no way I could cope with the standard of ‘O’ level.

In the same way that I feel the old style of exams didn’t work, I also feel that GCSE’s with coursework are open to possibilities of cheating.  Many kids had access to older sibling’s coursework and ‘adapted’ essays to their needs.  Then, of course, there is other outside help from parents and gentle prodding and coaxing in the right direction from the teachers.  My son re-wrote a Macbeth coursework essay approximately seven times to get it close to the standard required for a pass.

Which brings me to my main point.  My son is a bright boy who took his GCSE exams a year early.  Achieving mainly A’s and B’s, we were incredibly proud of him.  But after two years of slogging, rewriting, rereading and a lot of moaning, he still only managed to get a C for English.  He can spell just about any word you chuck at him, has a vivid imagination and can argue for Britain but he wasn’t giving the exam board what they wanted and was tying himself up in knots.  Were we disappointed with his grade?  No.  Why?  Because, quite simply, we can’t all be good at everything.

Surely this is what needs to be considered when looking at education?  I never passed a maths exam - I wasted three years trying to get a C when I could have been putting that time to good use elsewhere.  I get through life without a maths certificate and I use fingers, toes and other people’s brains when it comes to adding up.  I didn’t intend to go into a career which needed maths, so what was the point of all those years struggling?

Similarly some kids hate science, which has always been compulsory.  If it’s not going to feature in their career, why force them to do it?  A second language?  No head for it?  Why bother?

If kids have a hunger for a subject, that’s half the battle won.  Why do we need to compartmentalise them all?

The fact is, some are academic and some aren’t.  Put a system in place and keep it there so that our children know where they stand.  Offer more options and accept that the most vital skills some will leave with are hopefully being able to read and write - the fundamentals on which the most emphasis should be placed.  Another bug-bear of mine, as I’ve taught adult literacy in the past and kids are still slipping through the net.

Far too much importance is put on grades at any early age.  Life is stressful enough, let kids be kids and accept that they are all individuals with different skill sets.

1 comment:

  1. some very good points here Amanda, I do think they should leave it how it is now, kids these days have enough pressures.