Some new research and a couple of policy announcements have caught my eye just recently and it’s about time had my tuppence worth on the important issues raised.
First off, a new report has found that one in five young people in the UK say they have ‘abandoned their ambitions’ because of poor grades.
The research (funded by HSBC) draws on official statistics showing that around 40% of last year’s school leavers in England alone did not achieve the required standard of five good GCSE results, that’s almost 250,000 young people.
* 34% of 2,300 16 to 25-year-olds with poor grades polled for The Prince’s Trust charity believed they would ‘end up on benefits’. Many had experienced problems at school or home so exam results did not reflect their true potential, the report says.
* 26% of those who left school with poor grades believed their results would always hold them back.
* About 22% of those gaining few qualifications said their ‘home life was so stressful that they struggled to focus on homework’. This compares with just 11% of all young people.
* Less successful students said they were less likely to have access to a computer / internet at home – around 44% of those attaining poor grades said they had access compared with 70% of the age group as a whole.
I find the report worrying, particularly given government proposals for further, more rigorous testing and this deep emphasis on competition to achieve. Where will perceived failure leave the mindset of a generation worn down by persistent testing?
Primary school pupils in England also look set to be ranked directly against their peers under new government plans – pupils aged 11 could be ranked in 10% ability bands measured against a yardstick of the rest of the national year group.
There are important underlying questions here; how would a parent feel if their child is left floundering in the bottom percentile? Is this likely to demoralise or motivate our children to improve? And moreover; is primary school in danger of turning into one giant spreadsheet?
Here’s the thing. I understand the impulse to test and measure, obvious tools in any society looking to track the academic and intellectual progress of its children, its future generation.
But it’s what can’t be measured that is equally as valuable (and arguably more so) than what can. Testing is such a common force in the young lives of our children that there is a danger it will begin to define them as people.
Our children must not start seeing themselves as defined by external testing systems.
What would a national statistics table look like for measuring the level of curiosity, the depth of empathy, a sense of compassion or commitment to the common good and social conscience? Such characteristics should be embraced and encouraged in the classroom – these children will one day staff our hospitals, our care homes, our corporations and our government corridors.
As one report highlights the damaging and demoralising effect that comes hand-in-hand with rigorous testing, and yet further testing is announced by the government, we need to ensure just as much emphasis is put into comforting our children in the knowledge that life isn’t as much about winning as admiring, not competing but exploring.
Alongside the exams and tests, percentiles and spreadsheets, we must also remember the original meaning of the Latin Educare: ‘To draw out that which lies within.’