Schools which are run democratically by teachers and pupils, not the present mini-dictatorships of Heads. Schools where every pupil's achievements actually count for something and our unfair exam system is replaced by portfolios gathered through their entire school lives. Schools free from the paranoia and fear if inspections which create pointless and inordinate paper-work and , instead, where colleagues help and observe or you are visited by advisors (teachers on sabbaticals) who aid with resources and teacher exemplar lessons.

   All these I've advocated in more detail in previous blogs. Never more than today is the sheer absurdity of our examination system evident. The obsession with 'pass' and 'fail' is clearly not sustainable.

   With at least 35% of pupils branded failures at GCSE, how can that be any incentive for many to work at school? When they were initiated , GCSEs were supposed to be 'no failure' exams, without the A-C necessity. Now schools in deprived areas are lauded if their value added results are good. Yet even in many of these schools, up to 70% of the pupils do not get the magic grades. Such schools inevitably pour all resources into the borderline C-D pupils, often at the expense of others and staff are expected to take after-school classes and even study weekends, for no extra pay.

   Academics like Prof. David Reynolds (a WAG advisor on education) cannot see beyond the tip of his nose to actually question the viability of the system. In particular, the whole basis of learning and assessment must change, with an emphasis on group work rather than the individual.

   I say this not just out of an ideological belief in the spirit of co-operation alone - though that should be vital in fostering a caring and sharing society - but also with a strong pragmatism.

   Most, though not all, exams consist of the individual working in isolation, confronted by an exam paper they have been trained to cope with and have either learnt , or ignored, the necessary tricks to pass.

   Yet, in employment and life in general when are these skills of individual, solitary response required? As a writer perhaps,  but let's not pretend that exams ever gauge much in the way of creativity or imagination. Poetry, especially, is never examined.

   On the contrary, in most workplaces you have to co-operate with a group of people : take the lead maybe, take responsibility, agree to compromise and listen to others ; but not work individually with pen and paper.

   What happens at present with English Oral tests and Drama coursework should become commonplace. Group work has become an integral part of education over at least the last two decades, yet this is not reflected in the exam system.

   From my own experience, some of the very best work has been produced by such team efforts, with pupils supporting each other and imaginatively taking on roles to express views. At Key Stage 3, I recall one project where pupils in groups devised their own rock/pop/rap bands, with each a member ( not part of any National Curriculum, I'm proud to say). This led to interviews, reviews, lyrics and even, in some cases, cds and videos.

   Evidence towards the pupils' final portfolio of achievements could come in the form of tape or film, as well as the written word. Such projects are cross-curricular in the way Primaries used to approach 'themes' ( though they have never fully returned to this structure), with pupils making their own cds and designing stage sets and costumes.

   I'm not claiming what I did was unique. Teachers use group work in every subject and, as in English and Drama, pupils invariably have the power and choice to determine outcomes.

   What I'm proposing is, along with the abolition of a 'pass' and 'fail' culture, an elevation of group work when it comes to assessment. Working in groups can give less confident pupils the opportunity to thrive and each member can contribute according to their talents.

   The likes of Prof. Reynolds, who cannot see beyond one set of data to another, need to address the intrinsic failures of a system which condemns so many , making their entire school careers a waste of time.

                                    A POEM CANNOT BE GRADED

A poem cannot be graded :
it is not a 1 or an A*,
or even a 5 or a U.

It sticks its two fingers
up at all examiners,
ultimately refusing to be dissected.

Even if you put it on the wall
it will come alive after closing
and hare down corridors.

A poem can have no criteria
to box in assessement :
emerging like a dream embodied.

It can be googled for meaning,
caught  in the net and pinned;
but its words will grow new limbs,

so it jumps through open windows
into the rain, snow or sunlight,
tearing off itorm as it goes.s unif


07/27/2012 04:01

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