Exams aren’t everything

Constant change engineered by politicians, no wonder that parents are bemused and no wonder that in The Times recently (August 15th 2018) Alice Thomson wrote that “Parents, pupils and teachers will want to scream at the carnage.” We must remember too that for many politicians there are schools to which they are prepared to send their own children and schools for other people’s children: Blair and Abbot for a start.

For a while I hoped that free schools might provide the answer, with parents and teachers working together for the benefit of children. The head of one of the first of these spoke of running an independent, state-funded school, but these schools now seem to face the same challenges as other schools.

At sixteen I failed English literature, left school and went farming. Ten years on, when I knew that a change of career was called for, it was my adult appreciation of my own teachers that led me to the most important job in the world. Another ten years and I was an examiner of the subject which I had failed at school. I always told my pupils this story – failing an exam is not the end of the world; just learn from it.

Once children have demonstrated their abilities with maths, English and STEM subjects politicians no longer seem interested in them and do not ask how well or otherwise they perform as employees, parents, or as citizens. Thomson is right to concern herself with individuals’ fulfilment; the aspects of character and personality that concern all of us are complex and multi-dimensional, way beyond any scheme of academic examination but equally important for we have to try to live our lives as human beings, clever or not-so-clever, attractive or less so, good or bad or somewhere in between. This is a human dilemma to which politicians do not have answers that are any better than anyone else’s. They should keep out.

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