Monday, March 06, 2006

Early exams may harm learning

From the Herald:
"Curriculum chiefs yesterday attacked the growing trend of letting Scottish pupils sit their exams a year early.

Officials in charge of the widest-ranging review of Scotland's school subjects for decades warned that widespread use of so-called "early presentation" could damage pupils' learning."
Should probably file this under "no shit, Sherlock" and be done with it but it highlights a problem in both Scottish and English education that could be doing with highlighted, given the number of people who sincerely believe all our educational problems will go away if we "set our schools free" to act like supermarkets. The article refers to the growing practice of having kids in secondary schools sit our equivalent of GCSEs, the Standard Grade, earlier:
"The idea is to provide a greater challenge in the early years of secondary schools after inspectors warned that many pupils switched off in S1 and S2 because of a lack of motivation."
Translation: by about October, your S1 class is slowly and surely losing its collective marbles and by S2, it has developed into full-blown insanity. Let's get the little blighters doing Standard Grades a year early; that'll calm them down.

But it's not going to work because it's a mistaken diagnosis: there is not too little formal assessment in British schools; there is far too much. The relationship between educational standards and assessment would tend to suggest the opposite, if anything.

I think just about all of our European friends have less of this and have what are generally considered to have better education systems and it is common practice in private schools to dispense with the Standard Grade altogether, leaving the first external exams until 17. Why do they do this? Because it "sets them free", as it were, to develop a curriculum that is geared towards learning stuff, rather than passing exams. How about setting schools free by getting rid of all this bloody assessment? Internal, external, continuous, remorseless, tedious and stressful for everyone concerned and to what end?

Wouldn't it be easier simply to make S1 and S2 courses less crap? Currently, they tend to get neglected because we have a whole exam-worshipping culture and the low priority given to non-certificate classes is palpable at almost every level. Department heads sometimes like to exercise their authority by taking the classes they think are most important.

Unsurprisingly, this almost never involves taking on S1-2 in any serious way. These tend to get bundled onto students, supply teachers and new starts. I've got an idea: instead of Head Teachers saying they're taking the issue seriously by foisting an ever-growing diet of exams on pupils, why don't they get the finger out, realise the "Learning Community" they are supposed to be running can do without their Powerpoint presentations, thank you very much, and take a few classes themselves? Just a thought.

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