Examinations – deadly pressure on students

Examinations – deadly pressure on students
Whose purposes are now served by school examinations?
Last Friday’s Times (March 6th 2015) reported two teenage deaths in one comprehensive school, deaths believed to be connected to anxiety about examinations.
One of the students had been told that she would not be entered for higher level papers in GCSE maths. This, of course, would mean that she would not be awarded anything more than a C grade.
What sort of incentive is that for a youngster?
A long time ago I ran the English department in a school where I entered for O-level examinations any student who was prepared to work and who stood something of a chance of passing. My aim was to encourage as many students as possible to work hard, knowing that it was their performance which would determine their results. In the same school the maths department only entered bright students with a really good chance of passing the examination. Like the girl who died last week, some maths students knew, months before the examinations, that they had been written off by their teachers.
My aim was to see as many students working hard at English language, especially as language skills are so important in all subjects. My mathematical colleague, however, was precious about his and his department’s reputation and prided himself on a higher pass-rate in maths. I had to “suffer” a lower pass-rate when in fact my department helped a much greater number of students to apply themselves and pass, a quarter of them a year early.
Our current obsession with examination results mirrors the narrow-mindedness of my mathematical colleague and sets greater store by the results of a department or school, rather than maximising the efforts of as many students as possible, albeit at the risk of the institution’s examination statistics appearing less impressive than they might have done. Bright students know this; they have built-in bull shit detectors and know that they only count if their results help to enhance the school’s reputation. They may not have learnt by heart the mantra, “Lies, damned lies and statistics,” but they understand it. Some of them, especially those two poor students who took their own lives only last week, seem to have understood it only too well.

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