Yet again politicians are messing around with the school examination system. Michael Gove, who seems to me an utter fool, but more frightening – an utter fool with a fundamental religious and political cause, who could well be a future PM, and who wants to take exams back to a dark age.
Everyone, especially males over 40, think that the system they were educated in was better and harder than children get today. Have people like Gove actually studied or worked in the exam system in the last 30 years?
I doubt it.
The exams are not perfect and need some work on them to improve them. The best people to do this are the teachers and academics who currently work on them. Too many seem for instance to be able to study the same book or play twice, the rise of the Nazi’s seems the main topic for history, but these are minor adjustments.
Gove and his supporters want everything to depend on the 3-4 hour examination. This is not real life, does he make decisions and stick to them after just a few hours? Perhaps he does, but sane people discuss, look at other options, investigate.
I am 59, so took a timed exam, everything depended on them. The course work hardly mattered (except oddly in art), and this suited me. I was very lazy at school, I found exams easy, I didn’t bother with any revision, I always had a belief that if it had gone in, it had – if it hadn’t, it hadn’t. I did OK getting top grades in a few subjects I liked, and low grades in the ones I didn’t. I was not a good student, until I left school and went to art school/college, then I worked very hard and diligently.
In the time I took exams and until the present system came in the worry was that girls/young women did not do well under the pressure of the timed exam, considerable resources were put into dealing with this, the present system partly came out of that. Now boys don’t do well and resources are pumped into reversing that.
About 10 years ago I went to the local college and started an ‘A’ Level Drama course (I was nearly twice as old as the teacher!). This was examined through a combination of course work and a written exam. It was much broader than my old exams, from the first week we were expected to keep notes and do work towards the final stages, in my school days I would have hated it, but as I was doing this for ‘fun’ it was hard but enjoyable work, I couldn’t just amble along and trust to my genius in the exam!
As an aside we did a performance of Genet’s The Maids and as only males (mainly 17-18) were left on the course, I suggested we do it in prison uniforms, as if it was done when Genet was in prison, some of the others wanted to do it in drag, but after discussion we went with the uniforms and made the set very simple, and I played Madame which was a sight to behold. I’ve always liked Genet and my understanding is that he wanted The Maids played by an all-male cast.
So Mr Gove, what is needed are exams which can show people know the facts and theories, but also mirror the real world of collaboration, research, understanding. You and the other politicians need to allow those who really know about education to decide on how we examine the different abilities of children, which needs to be realistic along with pushing the breadth of what they learn. I do not want to see people discarded at 11, 16 or 18 just because they did not do well for three or four hours in their life.
Today’s photograph on a mild cloudy day is of part of a disused kiln factory in Tunstall, which thinking of The Maids would make an interesting stage set.