This exam fixation is killing a love of learning

PUBLISHED: 06:02 21 May 2018

Parents won't need reminding that we are now in the thick of exam season...

Parents won't need reminding that we are now in the thick of exam season...


Q. What is the point of exams? Discuss, says Sharon Griffiths

Just what exactly is the point of exams?

Certainly not much to do with education.

The exam season is in full swing. Stress, tension, tears and panic - and not just among the parents.

Anxiety levels are cranked up even further this year because of all the changes. The exams are hard enough, understanding the grades even harder. Is a 9 better than an A*? Where does a new grade 4 meet an old grade C? And how does any of it compare to O-levels that some of us did in ancient times? It’s a recipe for confusion for years.

Does any of it really matter?

People are already calling for the maths paper to be scrapped because it’s too hard. Which I always thought was the point. If exams are so easy that everyone passes then they don’t mean much.

Same with first-class degrees. A generation ago only one or two people in each subject - intellectual superstars - would get firsts. Now around 25% of students get firsts.

Are so many so much brighter and harder-working than we were? Mmmmm…..

Meanwhile, in the relentless pursuit of more subjects and higher grades, everything else gets trampled underfoot. There’s less time for sport, music, drama, fun and games. Or for building ten-foot Viking longships and actually sailing them - which a friend’s class once spent nearly a term doing and which has enthralled him ever since. Or re-enacting the Battle of Hastings which my elder son has never forgotten. Or learning about wild flowers or how to sew, or cook or grow vegetables. Or do anything which might spark off a lifetime interest.

There’s no longer time, even in the lower sixth, for doing things just because they might be interesting or enjoyable. If it can’t be measured, you can’t get an exam certificate for it, or if it’s not going to look good on your CV then there’s probably not time for it.

That’s not education. That’s just a treadmill – for students and teachers alike.

Because it’s the bits around the edges that matter. These are the bits where the light gets in, that give the mind time to play, to spark an interest. This is where education really happens – the love of learning things for pleasure without having to worry whether it’s worth a 9 or an A* or just another box to be ticked.

The exam system is already in danger of collapsing under its own weight. It doesn’t even work properly. Wait and see how many complaints there will be, how many grades will be challenged and re-marked.

Our teenagers are more stressed than ever. They’re jumping through hoops that have no guarantee of getting them anywhere.

So why not scrap the lot?

The only things we really need to test are literacy and numeracy. As long as our children can read and write fluently and have a thorough grasp of arithmetic, everything else is a bonus and has no need of measuring.

One day maybe we’ll sweep all those exams away and start again.

In the meantime, a decent breakfast is apparently worth half a grade. So feed them up and wish them luck. And try not to panic…

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