Joe Earley is Head of Three Dimensional Design here at Ipswich High School.
On Radio 4 this morning they were discussing the increasing stress and mental health issues found in young people as they enter the exam period. It is a stress that has always been there and perhaps is increasing. It struck me why, if it causes this much anxiety, does the government not try to find an alternative? Even though there is now a much greater range of teaching methods and more opportunities to learn from these methods than from the traditional classroom. Assessments and exam halls are still exactly the same, nothing has really changed and, with the government changes to the new GCSE and A Levels removing a lot of coursework and increasing content, it is moving away from the progress that has been made inside and outside of the classroom.
I thought it might be interesting to explore the question a little further, and imagine the exam hall of the future. What might that be like? Will it still be in a sports hall with rows of chairs and tables? Will pupils still complete standardised tests? Will they all still sit the exams on the same day all around the UK and internationally?
In the same way that technology is now aiding the ability for greater flexibility in the classroom, it could offer the same opportunity for pupils to be assessed in different ways at different times and to varying levels. Algorithms could be used to jumble up a range of questions so that tests are not all sat on the same day in a similar way to Midyis tests and therefore students will not be able to share their answers. This could allow exams to be taken at different times throughout the year and perhaps even outside of the school in a test centre that could potentially be managed by exam boards. Sixth Form students could have a greater flexibility to book a test when they are ready, much like you do when learning to drive. It could allow pupils to take a range of assessments gradually throughout their studies rather than focus all recorded measures on GCSE and A Level exams and have more of a graduated and transitional response to assessment. If you think about it, at what other point in life are we judged in such a way based on so many tests all taken at the same time in a few weeks in the summer, where naturally most of us would rather be sitting outside enjoying the sunshine.
However, even though there are potential issues with using technology, surely the potential it offers to provide different ways to assess learning should still be explored by exam boards to see if a different option could work in the future? Just because we sat exams in this way, is that a good enough justification for why we should continue like this? At Ipswich High School, we pride ourselves on our first-class Pastoral Care. If there are better ways to assess pupils and support teaching and learning, maybe now is the time they were tried and tested.
By Joe Earley, Head of Three Dimensional Design