The exams system doesn’t put children at its heart

Last week, Saul Nassé, the chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, suggested that it’s good to have high-stress moments in education, such as external examinations, as these help to prepare children for life after school. Tes reports.

It’s a view from the school of hard knocks, in which what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and better prepared for the competitive career space beyond formal education. Many might sympathise, particularly if they too have successfully negotiated the system and are blind to others who have fallen by the wayside, but it’s not a position that many teachers will support, particularly those who have counselled a self-harming child or one threatening suicide.

Unfortunately, our examinations system doesn’t put children at its heart. From phonics and KS2 tests onwards, results are used to judge schoolsrather than help children’s learning. Headteachers have faced a bullet due to transitory dips in a school’s raw performance, with a data-driven inspectorate providing the ammunition. If heads are constantly looking over their shoulders, they are susceptible to the siren voices that serve to narrow the curriculum and diminish children’s educational experiences.

The one-chance-of-glory format of our exams only adds to the difficulties. Unsurprisingly, Beat, the eating disorders charity, reports more referrals to its support phone lines during the examination season. No one has yet discovered the smoking gun linking exams and mental ill-health, the relationship is too complex for that, but exams as they currently operate must sit among the perps in the dock.

One in eight children in England now suffer from a mental health disorder according to the NHS and that simply hasn’t been factored. The government’s laudable intention to have a senior mental health lead in every school is behind schedule and estimates suggest that only one quarter of children will be covered by 2023.

This isn’t a firm bedrock for reform and enacting systemic change without any consideration for the mental health of our children is simply untenable. Ofqual needs to insist that all awarding bodies undertake a mental health impact assessment before embarking on radical reform.

Read the full article The exams system doesn’t put children at its heart

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Exams, Mental Health, Primary and Secondary.


  1. Anonymous

    Reading this makes me aware of how macho our education system has become, focussing on competition, rather than cooperation. This begs the question: does the country and do companies benefit more from individuals competing or groups working together to achieve development.

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