There is something in the air. In fact, everything seems to be up in the air just at the moment. I’m not only talking about the logistics of the Summer 2021 exam session – though some good sense and clarity on that would be good. I really hope that you listen to the experts: those who teach and support children.
It’s the whole thing, really. It feels as though it’s time you took a long hard look at yourself.
You’re probably way too busy to read letters. I’ll bet you get a lot. Such as this one; or the one I sent to the paper the other day, suggesting that we have a golden opportunity to re-think how pupils’ learning and wider skills are assessed.
This is a big picture discussion that would need to be held across the width and breadth of education. When GCSEs were invented, the school leaving age was 16. Children in England are assessed by written test more than most others on the planet. As we all know, written tests are not the only measure of a person. Time for a re-think, surely?
Learning cross-fertilises and our pupils are recognised and developed not just in the exam hall but across a wide field of activity. This is what we call ‘whole person education’: the intellective development, which is in part measured by examinations, is allied to active, expressive and reflective learning. The process is about becoming fully human and developing Salopian virtues that will last a lifetime.
Shrewsbury has a long history of asking difficult questions and being willing to challenge the status quo. Is our examination system fair? Can we influence it to be fairer, more holistic, more responsive to the teachers’ knowledge of the children– more fully human. How can we exercise our independence to provide a broad and holistic curriculum? Recent history shows that we are seizing opportunities here: the introduction of the Institute of Leadership and Management Young Leaders Award and the creation of Shrewsbury U, for example.
I know we’re all struggling day to day. Big thinking takes time and effort – and genuine will to address issues. At a national, system level, there is a debate to be had. This feels like the time.
I have two questions for you, the fictional Minister for Exams:
Question 1: Is there a better, fairer, more human way to assess our children?
Question 2: Read Brian Patten’s great poem, The Minister for Exams? And discuss.