i Editor's Letter: The endless focus on exams


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The Independent Online


It was no April Fool: our very own i columnist Archie Bland won the final The Weakest Link, having been asked to participate in it as one of host Anne Robinson's "favourite" past contestants.

I'll leave you to decide whether that should be construed, after i's travel guru Simon Calder's Celebrity Mastermind win, as suggesting we employ some clever clogs.

Of course, intelligence shows itself in many and varied ways. One of our contemporary problems is that we have become too attached to school exam success as a measure at the expense of virtually everything else. No matter how well we know the stories of the likes of Sir Richard Branson or Lord Sugar who either failed or dropped out of school, the entire system has been predicated on exam results for many years — ever increasingly so since the advent of school league tables in 1992.

Today, it's hard to find a single teacher who believes in tables — at the schools which benefit from top scores just as much as those that do not. Once again, I found myself talking to a teacher at the weekend who doubted quite how long she could last in a profession she had joined with such enthusiasm, and at which she so excels, so ground down were she and her pupils by the endless focus on exams.

Received wisdom is that results improve yearly, but standards decline. If that's the case, then it cannot be because pupils do not work. Most I know (not just my own) study so much harder than I recall doing, and fret much more about exams and future careers .

Small wonder then that exam stresses are so prevalent that both teachers and pupils alike are prone to buckling under the strain (p4).

And, my biggest worry is a sense I have that all our children are part of an experiment, the parameters of which are likely to change many more times even before my own teens reach school leaving age.