“The more you know…”

“The more you know, the less you have to carry. The less you know, the more you have to carry.”

Mors Kachinski

In my Year 9 class we discussed the Kachinski quotation – we considered the many competencies needed by a successful historian – many members of the class demonstrated these very qualities. It was a good discussion. There has been a drift in education to a dominant view that without exams educationalists have no way of deciding how to assess pupil potential. I’ve never been a great advocate of the exams only route although I do see a necessity for pupils to be asked to demonstrate both what they know and what they can do. This does not have to happen in an exam hall, it can happen in many forms. I’m not against exams being taken, far from it. So far so contradictory. Apologies.

What disappoints me about high stakes exams is that so little knowledge and so few skills are tested in them. In my own subject, any terminal exam at the end of a two-year course will leave out more than it can ever possibly include. That seems to be a lost opportunity. Work produced by the pupil during the year surely has a value in deciding at what level a pupil should be graded. What role is there for oral examination? Languages have these but they have never been spread across the UK curriculum. Why not? Being able to speak clearly about a subject is surely as important as being able to write clearly about it?

This week the Secretary of State for Education began to unveil the approach to GCSE and A level exams this summer. It seems that the examination boards will publish banks of assessment work and schools will have the opportunity to use or ignore as they see fit. Here at the BSP we are in a fortunate position. Many of our Year 11 and Year 13 pupils took their mock exams formally in January. In the normal course of events, they would take final exams in June. In the UK few pupils had the opportunity to sit formal mocks in January and have not been in school this term (they return from 10th March) so these summer tests may be the closest they will come to formal exams for some time. The approach that we will take is still to be decided but it may well seek to preserve as much of our normal structure and use the tests not as an absolute and final statement on performance but one of the many pieces of evidence that we have regarding the competencies of our pupils. I believe that I am not alone in believing that the consolidation of learning through revision is one of the most valuable aspects of the exam process and therefore it is worth preserving but surely a portfolio approach is the most appropriate?

Perhaps this year’s situation will give those who decide these things some food for thought. If pupils are permitted to demonstrate their abilities and talents through different activities, then university admissions staff and future employers may well have a far more rounded view of both their level of skill and knowledge.

This morning I met some academic high achievers from Nursery as my photo records. They were able to tell me the names of the planets and explain all that was to be seen in their pictures. I would argue that this is as good a way to assess learning as any other. I’m sure if we were to revisit this knowledge in the future that having enjoyed making their picture and having looked at it for some weeks on the classroom wall, they will remember the names of the planets. An undisputed A* for these two I’m sure you will agree.

Nicholas Hammond