Posts filed under ‘Exams’

Lembit, SAT’s and picnics pot pourri

You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Lembit Opik who so unexpectedly lost his seat in the election. But only a bit. Whilst I am sure it is no picnic for him, I have no doubt that when he has finished crying on a Cheeky Girls shoulder he will pick up some tasty work, Portillo like, in the media. He is quite high profile already, as though preparing for just this moment. He has already been on ‘Have I got news for you’ just hours after his fall and this morning on breakfast TV, not just once, but on two different slots.

Michael Portillo’s political demise all those years ago has, it seems, been voted as peoples’ third favourite moment of the 20th century. By his own admission his notoriety at the time has enabled him to reinvent himself and carve out a very nice, and no doubt lucrative, career in the media. If we’re not very careful we are in danger of even calling him a ‘national treasure’ (although on reflection perhaps a step too far).

Lembit does not have the same level of notoriety although his high profile womanising will do him no harm. He is sufficiently known, though, I think to be a prime candidate for picking up some very nice media jobbies, thank you very much, not to mention the autobiography, the diaries!!)

Whilst Lembit has been replaced as MP for Montgomeryshire, it is also no picnic for many head teachers of primary schools who are facing the ignominy of being replaced, at least temporarily, if they boycott the KS 2 SAT’s that are due to be taken this week. Those heads who are participating in the boycott are doing so for very sound, deeply felt educational reasons. The nub of this as one primary head interviewed this morning put it is that she simply did not feel that a 45 minute exam in any way reflected a child’s achievements over their previous 8 years schooling.

Any child that does not do well in their SAT’s knows it, and starts their secondary schooling with that blot on the landscape. This can’t help but affect that child’s confidence, the position they occupy in secondary school, and the view their new teachers have of them. Where there is setting at a secondary school the SAT’s results contribute to what set a child might be put in.

If they are put in top set they will probably feel quite good about themselves (as will their proud parents) although their can also be pressures on them to maintain that position. If they are put in the set below top set, well they are not quite good enough really, are they? If they are put in bottom set, then that means not up to much really, pretty worthless.

We do not literally believe those judgements, or at least we would not admit to it, but a child does. This leads to hundreds and thousands of school children starting the very scary and life changing journey into secondary education already with a chip on their shoulder, already disadvantaged, already with lowered expectations. No picnic at all.

It is in recognition of this, and of the fact that scrapping SAT’s does not mean scrapping ‘assessment’ as such (there are very many robust means of assessing a child progress) that those heads participating in the boycott are doing so. Rather than analysing the legal position of a boycott, or threatening to replace participating heads, it seems to me that the government would benefit from listening properly to the very cogent arguments being proffered.

One reason, I suspect, that the boycott appears to be somewhat patchy is that there seems to be no real political strength apparent in teachers unions. This is typified by a ‘laugh out loud’ moment when I heard on the news this morning that the NUT was holding a ‘protest picnic’ on the issue of KS2 SAT’s. Well, that will show them, won’t it!!!

So no need to worry Ed Balls, Michael Gove, or David Laws (or whatever combination of the three wins influence over the coming days) when it comes to dealing with the NUT, it is a picnic!

May 10, 2010 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

Stranded in Lanzarote – JCQ response a disgrace

When people first heard that we were stranded in Lanzarote as a result of Eyjafjallajoekull a first reaction was to comment how lucky we were. However, the truth belies that.

We were psychologically prepared initially for a one week holiday in a villa on the island. We were not psychologically prepared for our stay to be extended indefinitely, in the event for an additional week.

A great deal of the extra time was spent trying to find a flight home, feeling lost in limbo up to the time we did eventually manage to find one.

There were additional living expenses, which in theory we should be able to claim back from our airline, but in truth are expecting a mighty battle over.

Whilst you might think our kids would have relished this additional time off school there reactions were in fact very different.

Our 15 year old daughter got very upset at the prospect, realising that she would miss key lessons as preparation for GCSE’s, in particular missing a mock GCSE in PE the proper exam of which she is taking next week. She is a high achiever, very motivated, and until this happened on track for some great results. What upset her was the prospect of this being put at risk, through no fault of her own.

To help with this we got the school to email the mock GCSE paper which she then took in our hotel room, emailing the results back to school for marking. Up to the point of taking this mock she had been quite worried and miserable, but it was remarkable how she perked up immediately after having sat the mock.

Our 12 year old son reacted very differently. He is in Year 8, not yet on the GCSE treadmill, apart from in fast track French. For him the extra time off school was a bonus, more time in the pool and in the sea.

They did both miss their friends, Mum and Dad being poor substitutes, despite my efforts to regress which served only to embarrass. They were able to have some Facebook contact but despite all you can’t beat good old face to face stuff.

In response to our email to them explaining the situation the school did manage to inform ‘most’ of their subject teachers. I highlight ‘most’ because I do feel that missing the odd teacher was sloppy. One of my daughters’ subject teachers had no idea of the situation and was completely unprepared for remedial action on her return.

In order to reassure my daughter that she would not miss out as a result of our enforced stay I told her that her circumstances would be taken into account, and if it was adjudged that due to the prevailing circumstances she was put at a disadvantage in her preparation she would be able to take, say her PE GCSE, at a later date. She said this would not be the case. I swore it was. She was right.

It seems that whilst the JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) has said that some oral exams and practical tests would be re-arranged they also insist that no written A level or GCSE exams would be rescheduled. Why? I’ll tell you in a minute.

And where does that leave my daughter. She has done absolutely everything that has been asked of her, she is an asset to her school, she is on track, through her own efforts, for some fantastic results in her exams. When some of this is put at risk, through no fault of her own, can she depend on the ‘system’ to be sufficiently flexible to support her appropriately? No she can’t. Why not? Simply because they can’t be arsed – it would require a certain about of reorganisation and I can only assume that it is to avoid the necessity for this that the JCQ have decided, ahead of time, not to offer any flexibility for written exams.

I think this is appalling, and yet another nail in the coffin for an education system that thinks more of itself than it does of its pupils.

April 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment

Danish bacon!!!!

internet prohibition

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted about my 12 year old son having been told by his science teacher that the homework he had handed in was good, but that he would have got more marks if he found out more stuff from the internet.

The next day he came home with the prohibition notice pictured above. ‘DISQUALIFICATION’ if caught in exams with mobile phones, ipods, MP3/MP4 players or any products with an electronics communication/storage device or digital facility.

So if students use certain digital tools to gather information in the first place, as they are encouraged to do, they are disqualified from using them in an exam situation. All of which highlights one of the big problems with exams. If you happen not to be able to remember stuff you won’t do well. This is nothing to do with understanding. It’s simply memory testing, which isn’t real knowledge.

How refreshing then that in Denmark they are considering allowing wired computers with internet access to be used during exams ( http://tinyurl.com/otvrhw). This is to allow students to look up relevant facts during the exam.

Of course, it is immediately pointed out that:

“There are a number of potential pitfalls, however, not least protecting against plagiarism and the problem of students lifting information from online sources to pad out work”.

It seems that in Denmark, as well as here in the UK we assume young people will want to cheat, so guarding against this becomes an overriding concern. How trusting of our young people is that? There are all sorts of ways of guarding against this, and I do hope that these concerns don’t get in the way of this enlightened initiative.

Can’t see it happening in the UK though, not for many light years anyway. Apart from the fact that our mistrust of young people is very deep rooted, we just love exams, labouring as we do under the misapprehension that somehow exam results indicate something of a child’s understanding or abilities and can be used as a means of perpetuating a two tier system of haves and have nots.

November 4, 2009 at 4:55 pm 2 comments

Play the ‘Mock the week’ Ofsted exam game

mocktheweek

In their wisdom Ofsted have decided they are going to make it harder for schools to achieve an ‘outstanding’ rating by placing greater emphasis on raw exam results.

What a great idea. Just when we are being lulled into some sense of hope that the general exam regime is being relaxed in favour of other forms of assessment Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert takes a significant step backwards.

“Our focus is on getting a better deal for children and young people,” Ms Gilbert said. I don’t suppose the young people themselves will see it that way. I don’t suppose anyone has bothered to ask them!

Anyone who watches ‘Mock the week’ on BBC 1 (and Dave) will know that there is a section of the programme where the stand up comedians come up with ‘things you are unlikely to hear’ in certain situations. Here is my version:

Things you are unlikely to hear young people say when asked whether they would like exam results to be even more important than they are considered now.

‘It’s a great idea. I don’t think I suffer anything like enough stress at school at the moment’

‘It’s a great idea. It will help teachers just focus on the things we need to do for the exams.’

‘It’s a great idea. I’m enjoying school far too much at the moment’

‘It’s a great idea. Confirms that people who aren’t good at exams are failures’

‘It’s a great idea. Means that schools will do less creative stuff.’

‘It’s a great idea. Means I’ll do much less of the stuff at school that I really enjoy’

‘It’s a great idea. I get very nervous about exams and am not very good at them. This will help me to pull myself together’.

‘It’s a great idea. I burst into tears before my last exam. Hopefully this will mean more people will join me and burst into tears also.’

Why not add yours, either in reply to this post, or @MickLandmann on Twitter, and I will compile them all and do my best to get them to Ms Gilbert.

June 12, 2009 at 1:59 pm 1 comment


Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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