Delighted to have a week’s work experience at The Independent head quarters in London in June, I’ve been reading the online headlines recently. Imagine how as a current A-level student, the very cockels of my heart warmed at the title, ‘Michael Gove: Get set for new age of exam failure’. Already not much of a Conservative party fan, the education secretary has made my dislike for the party all the more solid. Apparently at A-level, it has been easier to achieve an A grade in recent years and the national average has grown to more than a quarter in the past 27 years. Easy? Two months of hardcore revision going back over nine topics all in depth is easy? What a load of bollocks Mr ‘I-did-my-A-levels-29-years-ago-and-know-bugger-all-about-how-stressful-they-are-nowadays’.
Gove suddenly decided students can all spin plates whilst taking their exam because the average of students gaining As has slowly risen and schools are using vocational qualifications to boost their past rates. As far as the vocational qualifications are concerned, make them count as one qualification instead of four. That problem was solved pretty easily. When it comes to the pass percentage rate, I am stumped. Stumped out of sheer frustration that all this country seems to think about when it comes to education is its statistics. Fair enough our progression rate is slower than other countries in the education department but suddenly making more people fail is certainly not going to help the situtation.
When I was at high school, three times a year we had something called the ‘Jesson Conference’, or as I like to call it the ‘Feel Crap About Your Grades Conference’. During every term we would file into the main hall and listen to the same mind-numbingly boring presentation about Dr Jesson and his statistical system that would predict our final GCSE grades. Then, we would go on to look at our personal grade sheets and work out our ‘potential pass-rates’. So how did Dr Jesson come up with these grade predictions? No, surprisingly he didn’t look into his magical crystal ball of educational wisdom. Instead, he used the point scores from our SATs exams which we took aged eleven to forecast what we would achieve aged sixteen. Where do I start with the flaws in this system?
Telling a student what they are going to get at the end of year eleven from their results five years before is absolutely ridiculous. Not only are they doing far more specific subjects to a far higher level which they may either struggle with, five years is plenty of time for things to affect someone. A family bereavement or the splitting of parents and speaking from personal experience, a loss of interest in certain subjects. Of course I had motivation to do well but if the focus isn’t there, a subject is much harder to grab by the balls. Take physics as an example. Probably my least favourite subject and every time my teacher began to talk, it was like somebody had shoved cotton wool in my ears and put me in a state of daydream. At GCSE level I managed to gain 14 A*-Cs, something I felt quite proud of but according to Jesson I failed massively. My Jesson stats were a white wash of A*s. The idea that I was capable of getting straight A*s should have been a real kick and something to motivate me, right? Wrong. I sat and cried after my first Jesson conference feeling totally deflated at the fact that I was supposed to get a set of results which I would never achieve. I wasn’t the only one feeling like giving up on the hopes of college and university and preparing to wave hello to a life of stacking shelves. A whole bunch of my friends – whom I would like to add at this point walked away on results day with miles more than the college entry requirements of 5 Cs – had been predicted no higher than Cs and Ds. One of my friends was even predicted an array of just Ds and Es. She’s now at college and loving it having gained results far beyond what she was predicted. Telling someone that they are going to get a certain grade because of how they performed when they were eleven is demeaning, upsetting and ludicrous. I do not know one person who has a good word to say about Jesson conference, teachers and students alike. So why is it still in place? The government is obssessed with the statistics of education and this pressure has spread to schools.
There are two key element to the education system which are being completely ignored. Firstly, the people who translate what exam boards are looking for straight to the students. Teachers are constantly glossed over. The ‘Jesson Conference’ is a perfect example. ‘Oh I know’ somebody said, ‘let’s not ask the teachers first to come up with grades for their student to aim for. Instead we’ll make predictions from outdated information and make the student feel like a piece of dog poop on the heel of someone’s shoe. Yes, that’ll be much more accurate than asking the people who experience first hand the work and abilities of the student’. Only after the Jesson Conference could a teacher agree a predicted grade with students. Why? It baffles me.
The second ignored factor is the students’ feelings. Yes, shockingly we do have those little things called feelings despite all being labelled as ‘hard, rioting thugs’ these days. I have already talked about how it feels to be squished by predicted grades that may as well be guessed by a cat doing a head stand and now, it is the turn of exam stress. Recently I took January exams in Psychology and Philosophy. I was so stressed I cried the night before each exam and felt completely overwhelmed by the idea of failing my first AS Level exams. As an A grade student I felt like I couldn’t keep all the information in my brain no matter how detailed or lengthly my revision was. Still waiting for the results I have yet to see how I performed. The January exams were the most stressful period of my life to date and that was just two exams. I look forward to the summer exam period which consists of 5 exams not including potential resits with total dread. Some of my friends who did not strike lucky with having January exams have as many as 9 exams in summer. For some, it is too many. People I know with good grades and motivation have dropped out of college, unable to cope with the workload and stress. Forgive me, but when someone comes along in the middle of this and says that our exams need to be made harder, I struggle to understand let alone agree.
So Mr Gove, unless you are planning to undergo the experience of sitting A-levels as they are today before deciding that they are too easy, you are about as useful to education as a McDonalds cheeseburger is to someone on the Atkins diet. The jar of nutella in my cupboard appears to have better ideas about education.