Focus on examinations undermines a rounded education

From: John G Davies, Alma Terrace, East Morton, Keighley.

I WAS about to post a letter supporting Richard Notman’s opinions on current educational attitudes (Yorkshire Post, July 6), when I heard about the new national curriculum. Where Mr Notman’s points are firmly based on evidence and experience, Michael Gove’s proposals are nostalgic and ideologically-based.

As Mr Notman indicates, “the present state of assessment takes no account of the development of the person and has a very narrow set of performance criteria”, the latter having a pernicious and restricting effect on teachers. Focussing on the C/D boundary to boost the school’s league table position means that pupils elsewhere are neglected.

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Being perverse, I would suggest that it is more important to move a student from a potential Grade U to a Grade F. That may be a bigger step and more difficult one than any of the others, but it indicates that the individual concerned can at least “walk” in that subject. The real shame of English education is its long tail.

The problems that the “illiterate” person suffers and the spin-off for society – prisons, for example, are full of people lacking in basic literacy – appear to me to make it really worthwhile to pay attention to this group.

The focussing on pencil and paper examinations of content-based subject material in a narrow range of subjects, apart from producing a multi-million pound assessment industry, wastes an incredible amount of paper, ink and most importantly teaching time.

Just about the only “process” that the pupils learn is “how to pass exams” with them being taught how to approach questions, to analyse them, to practice answering them, then to undergo mock examinations. How much more science or history could they study instead?

Why is that process more valuable than studying the processes behind history, rather than just its content, as Mr Gove wants?

In the halcyon days of Sir Alec Clegg, West Riding upper school pupils were guaranteed time away from school and home in a youth hostel and under canvass. Schools had outdoor pursuits teachers who provided further opportunities for the pupils to further their interests. Difficult to imagine anything like that now in state schools, isn’t it?

From accompanying classes 
on those trips, together with running football and rugby teams, my classroom was enhanced by the relationship that I built up outside with those individuals.

The focus on measurement, through exams, causes the syndrome of “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”. A teacher’s passion for, say biology or geology or history is more likely to be transmitted during a trip up Ingleborough than through an examination question. As WB Yeats said: “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”

Pupils are not widgets to be honed to plus or minus three microns, so forget “rigour”, because it is producing rigor mortis in schools.

They are human beings with strengths and weaknesses, who respond positively to praise and success, but often behave negatively in the face of repeated failure.

Mr Gove’s curriculum will guarantee more failures, rather than moving us up the international league table.