Teaching for exams

When I was teaching, I subscribed to the Times Educational Supplement, and was regularly engaged in all kinds of polemical correspondence. When I retired I withdrew from all that, cancelled the subscription, and stopped following educational stories at all. But now I can’t stay away, have to get involved again, for one, unavoidable reason. Yup. Michael Gove.

I had a letter published in today’s Guardian, one of many attacking his proposals for exams. He has this ideal diagram, where coursework is shoddy, unreliable and vague; only exams are keen, precise and intellectually respectable. So “rigour” requires no more coursework, only exams.

Back in the 1960s, I remember “only exams.” It means that I have to practise exam technique, teach kids how to prepare, to read exam questions, to write under timed conditions. There are some bright pupils who enjoy that process, and whose results benefit from it. (There are other bright pupils who find it incredibly dull.)

But for a large number, who won’t be successful in any exam, it’s a huge turnoff; repetitive, and leading to inevitable failure. In fact, it’s a good reason to skive. That’s where we’re heading, and he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.