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Examinations; the Be All and End All?

How are private schools so different from state schools that their students don’t quite understand the nature and purpose of education?

Well, at the least, it would appear that they fail to notice that good assessment does not need to be in the form of an examination and that the education system has accomplishments outside of statistical academic success. However, the coalition government is unveiling a wide range of reforms which ignore these facts, yet massively overhaul the current system.

Yesterday’s announcement by the Government is demonstrable of the belief in the importance of statistics that is held by the commanding body of Parliament. Entirely focused on the results and the value of qualifications, the new reforms proposed by Michael Gove neglect the wider reasons for the education system. Due to come into practice in 2015, the massive changes to GCSEs involve removing coursework, creating one-single exam at the end of the course and changing the grading system from letters (A* to U) to numbers (1 to 8). Aside from this, is a change in the curriculum to focus more on British produce and history; to me, an obvious attempt, to beam beliefs of British superiority into students’ minds, yet it will only make us look uneducated and ignorant to the international community.

Firstly, underlying these changes is the constant narrative that current GCSEs are just too easy – hence, if you fail, you’re an idiot. Why? Well, the inclusion of coursework makes them even easier, so that should be removed. Coursework’s “uncontrolled” nature, prolonged construction period and detailed feedback and help from lecturers makes them simple to pass. Also, I don’t quite understand the change in how GCSEs are graded will make any difference only in that it will devalue any “old-style” letter-graded GCSEs with new number-graded GCSEs being seen as more stringent, tough and valuable and, hence, those with high-grades in the new-style GCSEs are more likely to be seen favourably. Even if we were to accept the premise that old-style GCSEs aren’t hard enough and were easy to pass, it isn’t my fault that I was a student during that system, and why should I have to pay for that?

However, these reforms completely overlook the wider and more positive consequences of our education system. Coursework is vital for many people to help develop their written, independent and research skills that are so important in later life; after all, how often are you likely to be subject to a short examination (memory test) in the general workplace, instead of using these written or other practical skills. I’m sure most companies would find much more value in asking you to write a report, do some research, or apply your practical skills to a task, rather than to sit down in silence for a prolonged amount of time and write an extended response to an overly specific question or statement with no consultation. Removing coursework in favour of single examinations ignores this fact, and makes it much harder for individuals to develop these vital skills. In addition to this, to allow only a single examination in each subject (with those who re-sit looked down upon) will inevitably allow the system to fail those who make one mistake. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone gets a second chance; the new GCSE system will not allow this.

However, it is ludicrous that the Government believes that removing coursework and introducing single examinations would increase results and make us one of the best educating nations in the world. It is fact that people learn in different ways, and that people respond to pressure in different ways. Of course, some people work well in examinations and others work well undertaking research and this is a condition of our human nature. All individuals are different, so to treat them all the same is to ignore that fact. Whereas some people would prefer the increased pressure of an examination, it is bound to destroy and worsen the prospects of others. There are many students who are incredibly intelligent, can write well and fluently, but do not do well in examinations due to the increased pressure, unnatural conditions and, in some cases, simply the wrong question; I beg on David Cameron to sit my recent philosophy examination on whether things that are not temporally present exist – then we can see how much he remembers from his Oxford PPE degree.

You can see why I think that the government only care about results and not the people in between; students are just part of that endless manufacturing line that prepares them for the working world where we are analysed by a jumble of letters (or numbers) next to our name and our workplace adequacy assessed. If your two-sheet piece of paper doesn’t have the right symbols, you’re out, slammed into unemployment or into low-paid employment and then blamed for your lack of success. Surely, this is quite the opposite of what the Government really wants?

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