Richard Garner: Yes, there’s more to school than exams

The time to move away from the 'exam factory' approach to education is now upon us

Click to follow

Alice and Emily Lumley have taken to their new school like ducks to water.

Just over a year ago they were languishing in a London primary school where their mother, Tessa, admits that the pressure to do well in exams was “just crazy”.

By the time Emily was nine, she was doing an hour’s homework every day. The chatter at the school gates among parents was all about hiring tutors.

“There was a moment, when we lived in London,” Tessa says, “when I found myself standing at the school gates wondering if the world had gone mad. I have always believed that, while academic education is profoundly important, it is not the only thing that is important to children.

“It is not, for instance, more important than childhood itself. I want my children to be happy, but we found ourselves in a system that seemed to be about absolutely precluding that.”

I met the family on a visit to Gordonstoun school in Scotland last week, where Alice, aged 11, can spend an hour and a half of school time kayaking, while Emily, nine, is loving the opportunities to take part in school sports. The school is celebrating its 80th birthday.

“I have never wished I was back in London,” says Alice. “I love being in a school where you can be outside – doing something I probably would never otherwise have done.”

Both schools in this tale are private, but there’s a wider relevance to it than you might think. Education secretary Nicky Morgan and Labour’s shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, have been championing the virtues  of the kind of education that Gordonstoun promotes – with its emphasis on outdoor education, character building and producing “rounded and grounded” citizens of tomorrow.

If they want living proof that the time to move away from the “exam factory” approach to education is now upon us, they should just ask Alice and Emily.