Young people are bearing the brunt of exams chaos, but this generation may be remembered for its ability to move on and flourish, writes Emma Hattersley.
To misquote Oscar Wilde if I may: “to lose one exam season may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose two looks like carelessness”. And that is how it feels.
When the initial news of the national lockdown broke last March, we were presented with students with an array of emotions: disbelief being the central one. In a country where the cyclical nature of education provides an anchor for students, teachers and parents alike, it seemed inconceivable that we could find ourselves in a situation where external examinations were not an integral part of completing the final year of GCSE and A-level studies for our students.
Their fortitude and acceptance were undoubtedly supported by the knowledge that in the majority of their subjects they had already finished the syllabus, completed their mock examinations and non-exam assessments.
Moving forward almost a year, we find ourselves in a similar situation and yet the fate of this year’s exam cohort seems much less secure. Having spent the whole of the summer term online, the return to school in September was heralded as an opportunity to get back to business as usual.
Our students were relieved to discover that due to our online provision, they had not been disadvantaged in terms of curriculum coverage and were still on track to perform as expected in the Summer 2021 examinations.
The news of their cancellation was received with much less surprise, having witnessed last year’s events, and yet the frustration was immediately apparent. Godolphin students are highly-motivated, diligent and ambitious and want the opportunity to prove themselves by sitting the examinations for which they have been preparing.
It has also highlighted a sense of injustice that their peers in other schools have not, as a matter of course, had the same opportunities to continue their learning and how this can be taken into consideration in terms of teacher assessment. Whatever the Ofqual consultation highlights, it needs to be as fair as possible – we all feel strongly about this.
One thing we know about young people is that they like to feel in control. As the head girl put it to me recently “I’m worried it’s all out of my hands – I want to be responsible for my own progress and my results to reflect this.”
Now that the big end goal had disappeared there was certainly an initial drop in motivation for some. They were naturally disappointed that all those milestone moments such as the last day of lessons, the last exam, had all but disappeared and that it was difficult to plough on without knowing what’s happening.
We are hearing of unprecedented demand for mental health services amongst the young, as a result of this pandemic. We also know that feeling out of control can lead to young people developing unhealthy coping mechanisms. There is no doubt in my mind that uncertainty around exams has further exacerbated this situation.
So what’s the solution and how do we help our students to stay motivated over the months ahead? Through our Inspiring Bright Minds programme, one of the key attributes we nurture in Godolphin students is their love of learning, offering opportunities to move beyond the restraints of the exam courses. Our curriculum is broad, so students are able to choose subjects which allow them to explore their interests, to become independent thinkers and lay the foundations for the next stage of their educational journey.
For teachers, there is a sense of release from the restrictions of teaching to a rigid set of examination criteria and that this is an opportunity to enjoy learning for learning’s sake. However, the current two tiered system of continuing with examining international GCSEs, Pre-U, IB and so forth will, inevitably, cause conflict for teachers and students alike.
We have instilled in our students the understanding that GCSEs are a stepping stone towards their Sixth Form studies, where they can specialise, grow as a learner and become independent. The cancellation of examinations is a setback, but there is a bigger goal: sixth form and beyond. Similarly our A-level candidates are already looking to the future and focussing on higher education choices.
For a generation who is often criticised for its lack of resolve, reliance on helicopter parenting and fear of failure, I wonder if this cohort of students will be remembered for how they responded to the government’s volte-face regarding examinations and their ability to move on and flourish, rather than their summer 2021 exam grades.
See the full article on Independent School Management Plus.