It’s June, I have two children of secondary school age and yet no one is revising. It’s not that I have bred teenagers with a devil may care attitude reminiscent of Jim Stark. I’m not having to nag them or send them to their bedrooms every two minutes. Nor are they of genius quality, able to sail through exams with only a modicum of effort. It’s just that they have no exams.
My children’s experience of school is very different to mine. When I was at school you sat in a classroom, the teacher told you stuff, you wrote it down and at the end of the year you had to remember it all.
When I went to an open day at my children’s school, the only class in which they were all sitting down and listening was that being taught by my old history teacher. Everyone else was working in break away groups or at computers or in pairs, all busy and focused but not all focused on the same thing. Things have certainly changed.
And now, as we approach the end of the academic year, my kids’ lives go on as normal. They continue with lessons all the way up to the last day because they are not interrupted by exams and revision. They have been tested once a term in all core subjects in order to keep their tracking up to date but there is no need to swot it all and regurgitate it onto the page as a finale to the year.
As a child of old school education I find this hard to understand. I had exams every summer from being 12 until I was 22. It was just part of life. From Easter onwards I could be found drawing up revision timetables, condensing notes and making wallcharts all designed to help me ram as many facts as I could into my head. And I got good at it. With so much practise I had it off to a fine art. I knew how I revised best, I had a realistic idea of how long it would take me to learn each subject and when the exam finally came I was ready.
I understand that gaining qualifications based on an ability to demonstrate a competent memory is not necessarily the fairest system, although it suited me. I can see the benefits of assessed course work as long as it is the work of the pupil and not the parent. But when they finally get to the moment of truth, a chunk of their final grade comes from an exam, just like it always has done. And yet they have had no practice. They have not had year after year of miserable Mays to hone their skills.
I hear so many parents saying that their children have no idea how to revise. Many an hour is spent in bedrooms but nothing seems to be going in. Perhaps this is not surprising given the number of electronic distractions that greet them when they sit down at their desks. But really, by the time the heat is on and the results really matter, it’s too late to start worrying about how to revise. The emphasis must be on just doing it.
I only know how secondary school works up to year 8 because we haven’t got any further than that but it seems to me that exams, at least in core subjects at the end of the year can’t be a bad thing. Can it?