What Price Are Our Young People Paying with the New GCSE Exams?

I had the opportunity to express my opinions about the new exam system on BBC Radio Wiltshire today as it is GCSE exam results day. The question about whether the new exam system is working triggered a number of concerns that I have with this new system. 

Firstly, I have the utmost admiration for students and teachers who have worked so hard for these exams. Their sheer effort, dedication and determination is not the issue here. The issue is, whether these new exams are really serving our young people? How is it benefiting them and helping them develop their talents and realise their potential?

In my experience as a former teacher, this new exam system is flawed in so many ways. Firstly, the idea that more content and increased difficulty will, miraculously, raise achievement is a fallacy. According to the research and my own experience teaching the new system, summative GCSE Exams are not reliable as a diagnostic tool because they only show a limited aspect of student learning and ability. How can you accurately assess how a student has developed over 2 years or more based on a 2-3-hour exam?

Nor does squeezing more content into an, already, overloaded student equate to depth and breadth. In fact, it does the exact opposite.

Due to the content overload with the new system, schools are having to teach to the exam, cramming in content right up to the last minute. No time to embed learning or understanding, no time for creativity and innovation, no time to support the majority of students who are lagging behind getting increasingly stressed by the unrelenting pressure. No time to help students develop into life-long learners or realise their potential.

Neither does the research support our exam-based curriculum. A study by the Programme for International Student Assessment found that teaching to the exam restricts students because the focus is on short-term knowledge acquisition, which is soon forgotten once they have taken the exam. And the UK is one of the worst culprits.

However, the most worrying knock-on effect of increased content and basing progress on just exams is the increased levels of stress on already stressed students. Statistics show that there has been a 50% increase in students seeking support for exam and school-related stress. Also, schools seeking support for overwhelmed students has increased by a third. Furthermore, figures show that, 85% of 16-year olds have experienced school-related stress.

Perhaps what we need to reflect upon today, is not just the exam results, but the price our young people are paying under the new exam system. Due to the increasing exam pressure and stress facing students, I co-wrote, The Laid Back Guide to Exams and Stress with Psychotherapist, Jennie Caswell. The fact that we now need to equip young people with tools to manage their exam stress and their wellbeing at such a young age is worrying. It is also worrying that education has become limited to just an exam. It is so much more than that as are the students who sit them.

If we are to encourage a love of learning, self-development and growth then we need an Education System that reflects this, not one that limits.

If any of this resonates with you and you would like to know more about, The Laid Back Guide to Exams and Stress, then it is available on Amazon. Alternatively, if you have a book you’d like to publish, then you can email me at info@visionmakerpress.com

Naz Ahsun

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