Monday, March 22, 2010

Those wretched hoops!

Our younger son is closing in on his final GCSE (general certificate of secondary education) exams, and recently brought home his 'long report' which provides parents with the following information for each subject:

  • How your child is performing in terms of his/her attitude/behaviour in class, effort and homework completion - these are subjective scores allocated by the teacher on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being poor and 5 being stellar
  • Your child's target grade and how he/she is currently performing against that
  • A paragraph of reflection by the teacher: areas for improvement and so on
The last few weeks have been frantic, as the unfinished parts of the syllabus in several subjects are crammed in. The entire form recently had to stay on for an extra two hours every day for a week, in order to complete the work in subject X. Some of them are still doing this. My son has had no lunch breaks for weeks on end as he tries to complete the units of the syllabus in subject Y that the rest of the form did the year before he joined the school.

I don't understand why this all has to be done now. Surely it was known from day one when he joined the school two years ago that he was going to need to make up the extra year in subject Y? Surely that work could have been spread across two years rather than being crammed into these last few weeks? Surely it was evident months ago that the entire form was falling behind on subject X? Why does it all have to be done now? Especially since they are also frantically trying to raise several thousand Pounds for a school trip to Ecuador (anyone got a small fortune going spare?) in the summer.

My son's tutor remarked that he appeared to be showing signs of the strain of the additional workload and needed to find ways to break it down into manageable chunks. I commend her for her insight into his character, but I'm not sure what the poor kid can do.

In the context of all of this, one particular piece of feedback had me reaching for my poison pen. In subject X, my son's predicted grade is a B. His scores for attitude, homework completion and effort are all 5s. His recently submitted coursework received an A grade. The short paragraph from the teacher started "Your coursework was disappointing..." Excuse me? This is a model student who is outperforming his predicted grade and you are disappointed?

My son is talking about taking the work back and tweaking it so that he can get a better A or an A*. My advice to him is to let it be. He has enough else on his plate right now, and that A is in the bank. But the school is encouraging him to try to up that grade.

I know of another school where several kids are being pressured to resit a maths exam in attempt to up their grades from A to A*.

I'm casting about for a word to describe this and I'm tempted to go with iniquitous. What are we doing to these kids?


Catherine Rawcliffe said...

My daughter (same school year as your son) is currently sleeping in her room on this schoolday, exhausted and now unwell, as a result of the pressure of trying to get everything done for these examinations. Her efforts have been dogged by misprinted exam papers (requiring re-sits), entry into the wrong examination round (before full syllabus had been taught requiring compulsory re-sits as those results weren't published until after the last possible re-sit date) and even the wrong paper being presented to students (again requiring re-sits) None of these problems have been of her or any other student's making, and yet they are the ones being exhorted to try harder, avoid mistakes, work longer and even harder to make up for these errors by teachers, admin staff and even the examination boards. When are the adults we entrust with our children's futures going to step up to the mark and try their best to ensure that our children are not subjected to the sort of pressure that makes them ill as a result of shoddy, careless or thoughtless planning and organisation?

The upsycho said...

@Catherine I hear your pain. I have to say, though, that it's not only the teachers. The whole system is broken. We are so busy chasing down As and A*s that we have lost sight of the whole point of school in the first place.

V Yonkers said...

Interestingly enough, Harvard stopped using standardized tests (the SAT's here in the US) to identify those that would succeed at college.

My son spent the last 2 months preparing for his Advanced Placement exam (he gets university credit at all the universities if he passes with the maximum of 5, and at most universities if he gets a 4 or better). While our system is different here in the US, we still are stressing kids out with these stupid tests.

The problem is that education is equated to "stuff" (the syllabus) that must be learned and ranking students on how much of the "stuff" they can spit back. This is why an A* is so important. It will put you ahead of someone else.

It also is the focus on perfection, from everyone. And when you are not perfect, who should we blame?

I think back to an interview with Mitch Albon who interviewed a number of people that worked with dying people. He asked them what was important in life to make people happy and he came away with one thing: "be content with what you have." Perhaps we should be training our teachers, administrators, parents, and students this lesson.

The upsycho said...

@V_Yonkers I just wonder where we got the idea from that superior regurgitation skills made for superiority per se. Since when does perfect recall equal perfection, anyway?

V Yonkers said...

Absolutely. BTW, I like your new format.

The upsycho said...

@Virginia Thanks. I've rebranded to fit with my website.