Should we get rid of exams?

28 January 2010

There’s a lot of evidence that exams actually help children learn if they are properly designed and executed. The problem at the moment is that there are far too many exams and what’s being tested is far too narrow. I think we should set more real tests in our exams, using ‘real-life’ facilities. For example, let pupils use the internet in English exams, but ask them to write a real feature article, a real blog, a real advert. Let them write their own short story. But make them do these tasks under some kind of pressure like they would in real life.

I was speaking on Radio 5 Live about this issue on the Livesey show with a primary school teacher who was very anti-exams. His arguments were valid to a degree; that the exams were too narrow and prescriptive, but his feeling that children shouldn’t be put under pressure wasn’t something I agreed with; a little pressure does no harm. I think teachers, parents and pupils should put the exams into more perspective and not get too hysterical about them.

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  1. What is the actual purpose of exams?: answer to check the effectiveness of the teacher and placate the (confused) parent.

    A recent reality check by Universities indicates qualified but ‘thick’ students are getting through the hoop whilst lesser qualified but ‘gifted’ students struggle to get a toe hold. This is a general analysis but it is fair to say nevertheless.

    The top 10-15% of the nations brightest children are held back without encouragement by educational authorities and face a difficult future in mainstream UK schools. It is not always obvious that a pupil may fail a ‘school’ exam but could be particularly brilliant at something that falls just outside the national curriculum for his age group for example. In later (secondary) years a brilliant Mathematician may fail his school entry ENGLISH exam because his writing is so poor (as he thinks it unimportant – but he can type). There are many examples of this at the NAGC (National Association of Gifted and Talented) with parents supporting the charity to campaign for some recognition of intelligence quota (sadly missing from School admissions) and related to the national LEAGUE Tables of exam passes – proving not much in reality to education or intelligence.

    There is, however, one UK school that does not believe in ‘national exams’ and is based purely on a child’s ability to understand the problem and demonstrate a solution which interests Universities.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8401133.stm

    We should replace National Exams with more imaginative constructive projects. Such as a Novel in English maybe. A thesis on a Euclid. Shackleton’s adventures perhaps – are all part of an imaginative mix.

    I think this was the thrust of your article above Francis.

    Judged by G&T parents the national debate on falling or increasing national LEAGUE tables exam rates is a pointless exercise that mirrors national anxiety in education and the state of our Schools in general as seen through the eyes of the media and confused parents as voters.

    from Philip

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