The Not Exams, a failure to care for our children

Northern Ireland has an education system that likes to test its children. Not only do we have a majority of schools segregated by denomination, but the post primary schools are often selective, choosing pupils based on optional testing. Obviously, not all selective schools use the same test- why would the ‘catholic’ and ‘protestant’ schools use the same system? Others are better placed to talk about the transfer/ selection process and the impact on 10 and 11 year olds, but it’s not all good.

After the wee folk have done a few years at secondary level, its time for more testing, similar to the system in England and Wales. There are GCSEs at 16 and A levels at 18. GCSEs allow schools another chance at selection, and A levels are the selection tool of universities. Both GCSE and A-levels are 2 year courses, with testing half way through. The children are tested by state bodies at 15, 16, 17 and 18.

The pandemic brought change. Last year a hugely discredited algorithm gave way to school produced predicted grades. There was to be no such confusion this time. Oh no. We were on top of things now, normal testing would resume, don’t even think of the alternative. *fingers in ears* lalalala, testing is good, testing is normal, make no preparations.

Until it was announced that there were going to be no exams. Schools should continue with virtual learning, and lots of assessment, because we haven’t worked out the alternative.

The alternative turned out to be assessments. No, not those ones. New exciting assessments, done in ‘high quality situations’. These assessments would be school created, but the exam board would issue a sample paper which might be useful. Yes, of course, you’ll need 3 examples of work done in these high quality situations. Probably best to do them with all the classes at once, maybe in a big hall, with a supervisor. Perhaps you could issue guidance on Malpractice in Assessment before hand. But no, these are not exams, you understand, just assessing what the children know.

Of course these are exams, sat in exam conditions. Instead of the local exam board setting and marking the papers, the school is doing it. And all will be completed by the end of next week- before the original exams were due to start.

It’s a mess. Children are stressed out. The communication from the school suggests that the principal has had more than enough of this shit, but doesn’t quite say that. Guidance and info updates for schools were released on a Friday evening, via social media. Teachers had no time to get their heads round requirements before trying to explain to the children. The schools have had a huge amount of extra work.

Goodness only knows what results will look like in August. For Girl 2, the predicted grade she got last year counts for nothing, rather than the 40% of her final grade it was designed to do. Her result will be based on 1 term virtual teaching only, one term face to face with four weeks out for isolation, and the current term of assessments.

Remember, this chaos applies to 4 year groups at secondary level. Across the region, thousands of pupils in years 11, 12, 13 and 14 are dealing with this nonsense. That’s more than half of the secondary school cohort. (I can’t find precise figures, but the cohort has 145,000 pupils. It’s not as simple as divide by 7 and multiply by 4, but it could be in the region of 75,000- 80,000 children. Many thousands.) Because they’ve had nothing else to worry about for the past year, because our Education Minister thrives on testing, because our children are being failed by the system every day.

7 thoughts on “The Not Exams, a failure to care for our children

  1. The only way to bear this for all parents and young folk like you and girl 2 is to say life and love is a better teacher than any school test or assessment and look at the many good and caring people who have kept us going this past pandemic year – regardless of their so-called schooling – they do it through commitment and generosity. The young people will live a good life and find a good way precisely because all is now topsy turvy and their inner strength and creativity will carry them through. Don’t ever let your girl think she is defined by some stupid algorithm or by a result of a test. None of us chose the present position, neither girl 1 nor girl 2 will lose the qualities that are not measured. May you all have courage and dump the anxieties that go nowhere.

    1. There are more important things than exams & we’re working on keeping a balance. But it is horrible.
      If things work out the way she’d like, I intend to be a frequent visitor to Edinburgh!

  2. This pandemic seems to have exposed thousands of stupid, ridiculous, and often very harmful inequalities. And rather than learn from what’s been revealed, it seems most governments operate by “la la la” head in sand mentality. My sister-in-law is a middle school teacher in the US, and the amount of extra nonsense and work she’s been required to shoulder – for not a cent more pay, mind you – is obscene.

  3. Dear god, in B&W like that it’s awful. What it must be for those young people having to endure it, I don’t like to imagine. Sending big (virtual) hugs to Girl 2 xx

  4. I could hardly follow the complexities you describe here, Fiona. I can, however, understand how stressful this is for everyone involved. The students need a system that advocates for their best interest, despite the anomalies presented due to pandemic circumstances. What you describe is notably traumatic, and for that, there is no excuse.

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