The exams system doesn’t put children at its heart

Last week, Saul Nassé, the chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, suggested that it’s good to have high-stress moments in education, such as external examinations, as these help to prepare children for life after school.It’s a view from the school of hard knocks, in which what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and better prepared for the competitive career space beyond formal education. Many might sympathise, particularly if they too have successfully negotiated the system and are blind to others who have fallen by the wayside, but it’s not a position that many teachers will support, particularly those who have counselled a self-harming child or one threatening suicide.At their theoretical best, exams allow children to show what they know, understand and can do. They can be a valuable part of education, rewarding children for their progress and supporting a lifelong love for learning.Unfortunately, our examinations system doesn’t put children at its heart. From phonics and KS2 tests onwards, results are used to judge schools rather than help children’s learning. Headteachers have faced a bullet due to transitory dips in a school’s raw performance, with a data-driven inspectorate providing the ammunition. If heads are constantly looking over their shoulders, they are susceptible to the siren voices that serve to narrow the curriculum and diminish children’s educational experiences.

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