Lisa Markwell: I try to keep up at the back while my son sits exams that may soon vanish

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

How did it go?" I ask brightly. The best response is a grunt, the usual one is silence. This is my lot as the mother of a child sitting GCSEs.

The end is in sight. Monday sees the last of it: Additional Science Unit 2 B5, C5, P5. What does that mean? You're showing your age but also, perhaps, that you haven't kept up to speed on education reform. Admittedly, this is difficult, as the changes in schools seem to come with the same regularity as the purchase of a new PE kit.

Yesterday, we heard about the possibility of another one. The current format for 16-year-olds is a collection of units for each subject: bite-sized chunks that are sat over a period of months; some even a year before the rest. It seems to make it easier to cram information in at the last moment – which is not, I believe, learning at all – and it makes the exam season last what feels like a lifetime.

Was it better when we had O-levels, to which, if Michael Gove has his way, we are returning in two years? That depends on how old you are and whether or not you passed the 11-plus. I passed and sat O-levels at a grammar, my sister failed and sat GCEs at a secondary modern. It coloured our relationship for decades.

The misty-eyed remembrances of those who sat O-levels are misleading. Yes, they were more rigorous and invoked a deep understanding of the subject but even then there were discrepancies. And this goes to the heart of the problem.

It's not the kind of exam that children sit that is, in essence, so important. It's that there is no uniformity. My son told me this week that one subject's questions were framed in such basic terms that he was worried he was missing something. The next day, different subject, different board, the questions were so convoluted, it took him half the allotted time to get his head round them.

And that, one must assume, is all about the real villain of the piece – school league tables. While there is choice between examining boards, schools that want the maximum A* students and the resulting high placement will choose the tests that give them what they want, creating the "race to the bottom", examinations-wise. Gove, of course, will change that by having just one board for each subject, but he will reintroduce the old two-tier system. By the by, is it odd that a Tory is complaining about competition? Just a thought.

The timing of the announcement, when we're already poking our own eyes out with a shattered set square, is horrible. And for those of us with a younger child who we'll be nursing through yet another system – well, I feel like I'm walking round Escher's staircase clutching a pencil case.

Frankly, all those children in Year 11 should be applauded for understanding the system well enough to get this far. An O-level in education – now there's an idea...

Clive James lives to tell the tale

I used to lie in bed as a child in a bad mood – probably furious at not being allowed to stay up and watch The Sweeney – and imagine my own death. How sad everyone would be, I’d fume. How they’d wail and remember how kind and brilliant I was.

Well, ha, too late… I was reminded of it yesterday when reading the deluge of tributes to Clive James. Although he had announced, with typical eloquence, the terminal nature of his cancer, he was still very much alive.

I hope he found it entertaining and (more importantly) comforting, to see with how much affection he’ll be remembered. And that he’ll be fuelled for a little longer, even if it is by indignation.

Twitter: @lisamarkwell

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£10000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest In...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Car Sales Executive

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest Independent...

Langley James : CRM Services Manager; West London up to £40k

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Langley James : CRM Services Manager; West London u...

Langley James : IT Support; Residential Agency; Mayfair; up to £30k

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Langley James : IT Support; Residential Agency; May...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has died aged 25  

Phillip Hughes: A sensational man, both on and off the pitch

Angus Fraser
Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party  

If people voted for policies, the Green Party would win the next election

Lee Williams
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?