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If you happened to be out and about on Friday evening, you would have seen and heard the signs of pure relief as sixteen year olds revelled in the evening sunshine, happy that exams have finished; revision is over and life is about to return back to normal. Things have been particularly challenging for this crop of students, who have been the first cohort to negotiate the new, tougher and more rigorous GCSEs. Gone is the soft option of coursework and continuous assessment – and in return, exams, exams and more exams. This is how things should be assessed, after all, tests never lie.

Tests are proven to give a pretty accurate assessment of how good students are at… tests, or more specifically, dealing with pressure, personal organisation, time keeping, exam technique, writing speed and short-term memory. These skills are useful, but don’t always accurately reflect a student’s academic attainment. Assessment based on exams reward the pragmatists; the students at schools where students have been well drilled and the offspring of the tiger mums.

But it’s not just the secondary school students who have finished their exams. At Highgate Primary, our Year 6 pupils have completed their end of Key Stage 2 SATS, having negotiated tests in Reading comprehension, arithmetic, mathematical reasoning, spelling, punctuation and grammar. And our younger children have got in on the action too with the end of Key Stage 1 tests in reading, writing and maths, not forgetting the Year 1 Phonics Screener.

If you were to add up, over the course of an education, time spent out of the curriculum to engage in the current programme of testing, it’s a lot, possibly as much as a year – in order to inform teachers what they know already about their pupils. For GSCE students, the normal school timetable was suspended at the end of April, and will only resume again in September.

It is interesting to note that, according to PISA data, on the international stage the UK education system is ranked 23rd in terms of results. Finland on the other hand, sits right at the top of the table, however in Finland students sit no mandatory exams until the age of 17-18. Before that, teacher-based formative assessments, without scores, marks or grades, are used to monitor academic progress.

And all this time being tested, is time out of learning new and exciting things. I often liken this to a farmer who decided to dig up his carrots every few weeks to see how they were growing. He’d very carefully remove them from the ground, measure them, plot the results on charts, graphs and tables, before lovingly putting them back in the ground. He was always disappointed at harvest to discover that his carrots were much smaller than those of his competitors.


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