Adults fail the test in exams sniping

Alex Darcy is 46, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 14, and son James, nine, and wonders how life got so . . . baffling

Alex Darcy is 46, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 14, and son James, nine, and wonders how life got so . . . baffling

I'M so glad the newspapers and TV screens have been full of pictures of smiling teenagers this past 10 days - as they scanned their GCSE and A-level results with the eagerness of Charlie Bucket praying for a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory - because those are the images that will endure. The printed and spoken words, though . . . well, they've been harsh enough to send even the most confident child into a spiral of confusion and depression.

August has become boring. Exam D-Day hardly dawns before the first of many critics is heard decrying the combined results as false because the tests are just so easy nowadays compared to 1950, or 1962, or 1974. Just when a pupil should be launching 1,000 multi-coloured rockets in a shower of sparks to celebrate his or her triumph, he's handed a damp squib. I know kids are meant to be resilient, but to many it must translate as “Yep, you worked your socks off, and did all that was asked of you - stayed home and hit the books when you really wanted to camp out at the Latitude festival with your mates - but, really, you're still not up to much. You can go to university, but you'll have to pay for the privilege by agreeing to a debt that will follow you around for years like a shadow. And even then you might not be able to get a job, as some of us grown-ups have got too greedy and fouled-up the global economy for the foreseeable future.”

It's also such a slap for teachers, who over the years have responded to Governmental and parental demands to be better educators. Teachers, in general, are noticeably more skilled at bringing their subject to life, and more dedicated, than when I wore a blazer and carried a briefcase. Like their charges, they deserve bouquets rather than brickbats.


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The truth is that the perennial exam inquest says much more about we grown-ups than it does teenagers on the cusp of adulthood. Children don't ask to be born - and then they're told how to act and what rules to follow. Autonomy and self-determination? We give them a taste, but nothing more. It's adults who draw up the syllabus, choose the teaching methods, set class sizes, decide that bits of history are bunkum and that languages are where it's at, and then do a U-turn a few years later. We decide the lottery of exams is too unfair - course-based continual assessment is a much better gauge . . . this year . . . we think . . . maybe. Or how about an international baccalaureate? That's much more 21st Century.

All we can expect of children is that they give it their best shot, under whichever system is flavour of the month. Which is what most of them do - with gusto, commitment, imagination and success..

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They deserve much better - starting with an end to the sniping.

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