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A lesson learned about exams

26th March 2020

The knock-on effect of the current situation will be far reaching, as we all know.  One impact that is well documented has been the closure of schools and cancellation of exams – clearly a necessary measure.  While health comes first, it is tough for many school children as they have worked hard for so long towards the exams that should decide their future education.

We’ve been sitting school exams in this country for over 150 years – apparently, they were introduced in 1858 when schools themselves asked universities to produce Junior (under 16) and Senior (under 18) exams that boys could take ‘local’ to where they lived.  They were held in large halls in schools or village halls and invigilators travelled to supervise, bringing ‘the papers’ with them.  (Girls were ‘permitted’ to enter almost 10 years later – let’s not go there…)

So what has changed?  Not a lot really.  Kids still sit exams at roughly the same age and they still take place in large halls with rows and rows of single desks, and the all-important ‘paper’ handed out face down taunting you to turn it over, believing your life could depend on it.  And external invigilators walk up and down, up and down.   For these couple of hours, we subject kids to a completely alien environment – not least the quite ridiculous ask to use pen and paper when we are all so used to the luxury of cutting, pasting, deleting, never mind the all-important spellcheck.

Children thankfully don’t learn the way they did 150 years ago – education is now progressive and constantly reviewed and updated to reflect the world we live in; it is not only more interactive but importantly it encourages young people to think for themselves and develop as individuals.  If the way children learn has changed, could 2020 be the time to acknowledge that the examination process just might be (about 150 years) out of date?   With options for ongoing assessment and the use of course work, there must be a better way…