My heart is broken for current school leavers. Would continual assessment have been fairer?

Exam results were published in the UK and are wildly acknowledged as a complete fiasco or utter foul up, depending on which side of intense frustration you sit. My heart went out to all those with the wrong result, which I believe, was practically everyone. It’s made me think about this “one – day – do or die” exam climax, and whether or not it’s right.

At the moment, what you’ve got is a year of school leavers who were preparing for a big event, the June exam season. Some of these guys were plodders, who swatted conscientiously for a couple of years. Most students hitch their wagon to June, with a plan to give their best at that time. This means your Christmas and mock/Easter exams do not reflect your full potential. And the year before, the penultimate year, could be a complete write-off because maybe you were focusing on sport, exercise or the spot on the wall above the teacher’s head, aware that you’ve a whole year (which is a life time when you are 16/17), to make up for it. The question that baulks is this – “are we now going to judge these kids on what was not, even remotely, their top performance?”

And so, the current mess of exam results may propel people to cheer for 100% continual assessment. I had a mull on that and decided ‘Christ no’. Two whole years of continual assessment is far too much pressure at that age. Building a world where every exam, every piece of work, could influence their final grades and therefore the rest of their lives, is just not fair. They’re under the cosh enough as it is. We all know someone who struggled with a subject for years but through solid book bashing managed to pull a ringer out of their pocket on the day of the exam. Continual assessment determines that those who are still learning the best avenues of study are downgraded because of the very fact that they are learning – which is just plain bonkers.

However, my main problem with continual assessment is that it doesn’t make any allowance for fun, or craic or mischief. We should all be allowed to take some time off, try something new, take our feet off the accelerator, cool things down when our minds are burning too hot – and not bear any punishment for it. And, Jaysus, not have to wait until the prescribed breaks at Summer etc. Only the incredibly disciplined can do that at 17. The rest of us are tempted by the cinema, sports, music, parties, or maybe just staying up til 3am reading an incredible book. These are the activities which make us more interesting as people, in which we learn who we are and what we’re like in different situations.

The consequence of too much adventure at the wrong time is of course a big blot of an academic result at some mid-point during that two-year journey. That’s actually a win, if there is no permanent comeback – maybe just a grounding or a bollicking. It’s an invaluable lesson of self- modulation which is not taught enough as it is – both in terms of craic – modulation and those who may study too hard too soon. Learning when to give yourself a week or two to ease back is very important. Learning that there may be an exam next week but actually you won’t be able to ace it because you over did it in the last couple of months – is a lesson that at 16 should not have long term impact.

This innocent bunch have been robbed. There is no other way to put it. All their strategies and swatting now feel pretty darn pointless. And that’s a big point – knowledge for knowledge sake was the original aim of education system but not now, not when you’re going through it, not these days. To those slap bang in the middle of it, their whole focus is exams. You learn and learn, and then you regurgitate in an exam with the final badge your grade. From 5 years old to 18 – all the reinforcement ensures the supreme reason to go to school is to achieve good grades.

There are very few autodidactics out there and our system does not encourage it. And that is the invidious problem. If we could create an education cycle which celebrated and prioritised self – learning, we’d all be winners. We’d own a life skill that would enable us to thrive no matter what kind of a hames the government made of our examinations. That’s the recipe for success.

In the meantime, my heart and soul goes out to those school leavers this year. Hard luck lads. Hopefully life will give you a decent leg up in another few years.

Published by gillsheeran

Former CFO/COO who quit my job to emotionally support my family at the start of the pandemic.

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