Are exams damaging, outdated and stressful?

Education journalists have never been so busy. A second bout of remote learning, concerns about catch-up curriculum and the government wading in with ideas about longer school days tend to generate a lot of debate and print coverage. 

GCSEs were brought in to provide an exit ticket for pupils wishing to leave formal education at 16 years old. Since the changes in 2015 that raised the leaving age to 18, it now suggests that the exam is redundant. This could be the time to step back: what we do expect a 16 year old to know? Educating children for knowledge and skills is more than just learning a range of facts to be regurgitated on a piece of paper. Instead let’s think: how has contact with this knowledge shaped a child’s experience? Has it made them think or wonder? How do we model our interest in their ideas?

In a recent article by Sian Griffiths in The Times about a new national movement to scrap GCSE exams, it began to echo what we are aiming to achieve at Meta Prep: “The campaigners argue that two years of not holding exams because of the pandemic makes it the ideal time to create a better system for assessing what teenagers know and can do.” I love this idea that after a year of disruption, we could be at a place nationally to make changes to our assessment system. Many of the memes shared around the first lockdown talked about the ‘great reset’ and suggested applying new ways of thinking to the environment, collaboration and science. This is the time to do the same in the world of education. 

Thinking skills are key

Thinking Matters encourages schools to consider why thinking matters! If we are going to be turning out pupils ready for the 22nd Century, what are the skills and attitudes required? If they need to have listening, communication, social and team skills, will GCSE exams sufficiently prepare them? Ho to be energetic, motivated, engaged or even ready for that challenge?

I am not suggesting that we ditch exams altogether or that knowledge about literature, culture and the arts is out-of-date. Cultural capital is vital and introduces children to new experiences and knowledge. Instead we need to reevaluate how children use the knowledge they have gained, not just as a means of passing an exam but in their lives beyond schooling. 

Our aim at Meta Prep is to teach children how to think. Metacognition must be explicitly taught. Teaching pupils the key thinking processes and strategies involved in metacognition sets them up for a life of successful learning. Our approach creates meta-learners: those capable of understanding themselves, being able to reflect on their learning, who know how to make progress, whatever challenge they are set.

Curriculum to develop creativity, collaboration and innovation

The taxonomy is useful for structuring questions to reach for the most difficult mental functions

Winchester College’s announcement this week that they are admitting girls, highlighted that their curriculum will have an increased emphasis on creativity, collaboration and innovation. Selective secondary schools are seeking pupils that exhibit mental strength, curiosity and imaginative thinking. As a parent, you would like to know that the school has continued to develop your child successfully in these key areas.  

Collaboration cannot be taught and is only allowed to develop when pupils are encouraged to work together. Our teaching practice is evidence-based and a class of six is fundamental to our approach, making learning more fun, building camaraderie and increasing pupil motivation. Creative thinking is part of our repertoire of cognitive thinking tools and strategies. We provide pupils with the opportunities to be innovative and to use their thinking to solve problems. 

Assessing confidence and independence

The changes to the Ofsted framework have highlighted the importance of wellbeing and character education. If we do not provide a matrix that places value on these attributes, how will young people know that they are successfully equipped for later life? 

“the curriculum and the provider’s wider work support learners to develop their character – including their resilience, confidence and independence – and help them know how to keep physically and mentally healthy.”

Ofsted (May 2019) The Education Inspection Framework

The case argued by the group Rethinking Assessment, is that with a third of children falling short of the goal and leaving school with no qualifications, it is important to start with outlining the accomplishments we want to see in 18 year olds, developing a curriculum that encourages these skills at the front and centre and then developing systems to assess these. Teaching children metacognitive knowledge gets them to think about their own learning and to evaluate their own academic progress. 

Whether they are approaching a task, challenge or an exam they will be fully equipped to confidently deal with what’s ahead.

Enrol your child with Meta Prep and give them a life of learning how to learn that starts with 11+ success

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