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

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The truth about kids on holiday

Rosie Millard
 

August catch-up: Barack's phone calls, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home