The first thing I need to say, is that nothing I write in this blog post is intended to be a criticism of the teachers who are currently working their backsides off to get my son and his year group through their GCSEs. Their commitment has been extraordinary and they must be knackered. But there’s nothing like being a parent watching your child go through exams to make you realise what a completely insane system it is.
He started this week. And for the next three weeks, barring half term, there is barely a day without an exam. Or two. Or on one day, three. His teachers ran revision classes all the way through the Easter holidays. They are running them from 8 in the morning and after school/exam until 5.30. He’s trying to attend everything and he’s shattered already.
Woah. What happened to independent study? To study leave? He’s been told that there will be no study leave this year until after the last exam. But….
I completely understand that teachers, held to unbearable accountability, want to squeeze every last second of contact time out of them and I understand that Headteachers working with the level of job security previously only known to Premiership football managers, are desperate to ensure the best possible results, but I wonder if this is counterproductive.
On a practical level, there are only so many days and so many subjects. So some get slots for revision and others don’t. Or the child has to choose. And I wonder about the impact of this level of dependency on their performance at A Level, or at University when no-one will run extra revision, or expect anything other than autonomous, independent learners. Are we not making rods for the backs of others?
It’s a difficult dilemma. As a parent I veer from sheer gratitude and respect for the hours they are putting in to concern for the exhaustion my child is exhibiting. I’m convinced he’d be better off revising in his pyjamas like I did with my Mum popping in with biscuits and tea. And as an educator, I wonder what impact this has on teacher well being too and how sustainable it is as a model.
He has come home three days running now saying that the paper was not ‘what he expected’. In some ways, this is exactly what papers should be – full of surprise, challenge, thought provoking questions that demand you apply your knowledge and think. But to be able to do that, you have to have been prepared to be flexible, adaptable, confident and brave. What is our current system doing to encourage this? Tired minds, tested in limited and limiting conditions don’t perform to their optimal levels. Would there be a better way to find out what he really knows, what he can really do?
He’ll be fine, I’m sure. His parents are teachers. His teachers are kind and dedicated. But I really have to query a system that prides itself on toughness, machismo and blame. That seeks not to bring out the best in our children, but to see who can survive the pressure. Because that kind of system is without tolerance. It smacks of inhumanity and the values it embeds are not ones I share.