Where to start?

Trying to decide what to blog about is more difficult than I thought… I’m one of those people who is interested in pretty much everything in some way, so there will be a lot of genre-hopping throughout this blog.

The first topic of conversation, seeing as I’m a student, will be exams- which is quite fitting considering the time I’m spending writing this blog is procrastinating from A-level revision.

At the moment the news is full of contradictory stories about exams, especially GCSEs; on one hand, thousands of students are failing to achieve satisfactory results in the “traditional” subjects (I’ll come back to that at another time), but on the other hand, people are scoring handfuls of A and A* grades. This seems counter-intuitive, more so because both scenarios are happening at the same time, in the same schools.

It also creates problems for pupils, as they are surrounded by media reports, parents and teachers saying how easy their exams are. This isn’t beneficial for any student; those who did badly will be even more demoralised by education, leading to them being less willing or able to continue to higher education. For students who did well, any sense of success they had at scoring 80/90%+ will be instantly devalued. This puts students into a no-win situation.

For students who are willing or able to go on to A-levels, a similar situation will arise. August 2010’s A-level results showed a 97.6% pass rate, increasing for the 28th year in a row. While this figure does attract criticism, surely a high pass rate is what should be happening?

The logical progression should be:
i) student who performs averagely or well at GCSE decides they want/need to do A-levels
ii) students chooses their subjects and college or sixth form
iii) government trains teachers to be able to teach that subject to interested students
iv) teachers pass knowledge on to students, so they can perform well in the exams
v) students pass exams, with a good knowledge of their subjects
vi) students use that knowledge and their qualifications to go into further study or work, contribute to the economy, everybody wins.

This means the high rate of passes is logically coming from students being more motivated than they were at GCSE, along with good teachers, well-designed exams, and less subjects than at GCSE. If this is the case, why is it a problem?

If this isn’t the case, it means something has gone wrong, and I don’t think students deserve to have their success made meaningless by how the government and teaching boards have designed and implemented their exams.

5 thoughts on “Where to start?

  1. Small side note to begin with – I didn’t realise you had this side to you. Feel free to randomly go into these kinds of discussions next time we talk. I’ll happy debate anything. :P

    Anyways, I never did understand why most people will automatically jump on the bandwagon whenever it gets mentioned that exams are “getting easier” and assume that students are having an easy time. From my own experiences and from listening to those of others, I've never found anyone who believes that to be case. Sure, if you have an interest in the subject and more importantly a natural ability to do that subject well you'll certainly have an advantage and do better if you put the work in, but you still have to work very hard to get whatever you can. If anything society should be aiming to help more students do the best they can since it's really for the benefit of everyone if they make the most of it.

    It seems to be a bit of a pessimistic view in that if success rates go up it must be because standards are slipping. Why is it so hard for people to believe these days that a good thing can actually be a good thing?From what I've seen over the years, students can get a heck of a lot of pressure from 3 different places and if anything, it can be questioned if they are making things more difficult without even considering the actual work. If so, then students are actually doing pretty damn well to get the successes that they've earned and people shouldn’t be demoralising them for it. Granted there ARE slackers and “problem students” out there, but they generally tend to be the exception, not the rule.

    Firstly there are the parents. Whilst I'm sure most of them do a great job in encouraging their children along and pushing them in the right direction, I think some can be far too demanding on them and all the work they have to do ends up feeling far more stressful than it should do. I'm mainly talking about the types of parents who feel their kids can achieve absolutely anything and expect top marks across the board, even if the child isn't actually interested in doing so or just doesn't have the ability to manage it in certain subjects. In that I’m sure most of them will manage fine but imagine the sense of failure some students must feel when they don’t make the grade and have to go back and tell their parents that they fell short of the nonsensical expectations put on them? Even if students put everything into it and somehow it backfires or doesn’t quite meet the standard, the sense of failure when reporting back to their parents I’d imagine would probably be quite significant, even if in reality they’ve actually done pretty well and should be praised for their efforts.

    Secondly, there are the other students around them. For example, imagine a student who, despite trying hard, can only achieve a average or low C at GSCE and manages this on a mock test. Then they have a friend who is quite capable of getting A* but just falls short and gets a standard A grade. The more capable student might feel that they could and should have done better and when sharing this with their less capable friend ends up making the less capable student feeling worse because even the “disappointing” results of the higher achiever is miles away from what the lesser capable student could reach. Sadly, this seems to be an often occurring case and doesn’t often make the lower achiever feel like pushing themselves, but this obviously depends on the person.(My response was too long, will continue in the next comment. :P)


  2. (This is a continuation from my previous comment – not sure if it'll be above or below this one. :P)Finally and perhaps most importantly are the pressures from the teachers in general. I’m not talking about general teaching here since most of the time that works out fine. More accurately, I’m talking about teachers with the view that their subject is the most important and that students should hold back work on their other subjects in order to advance with the specific subject in question. Whilst I’m sure some students will appreciate this if it’s a subject that they really like for the most part it just seems to put unwanted extra pressure on the student and adds extra feelings of expectation which then goes on to make students feel more stressed which is simply counterproductive. This can be (And usually is) made worse by teachers from several subjects taking this approach, leaving the student feeling that they have to please everyone and opens up the possibility of students burning themselves out in attempts to do so.When seen from that point of view, I’d argue that students do well just to get as far as they do and we should be giving them the encouragement and praise they deserve for doing well rather than saying the stuff they do is getting easier. The fact that the numbers keep going up is something that should be celebrated as it is better for society in general in the long run and quite frankly it should be what we want!I have plenty of views on exams themselves, too, but that can wait for another time. :P


  3. To add to this, I didn't realise until A-levels how people can have often pretty dramatic differences in how they perform across different subject, and how people have certain subjects that just make sense. Like how in Maths and Chemistry, I'm the student who is normally barely passing so when we get homework back and I've got an E/U and everyone around me has A/A*, then I don't exactly feel capable. Yet in psychology I can normally get pretty high scores without trying- I don't think this means I magically transform from being a poor student to a good one, just that I've found a subject that I can naturally understand easily. Also, I think parents and teachers can focus only on the one subject they know about, and ignore what the student can do in other subjects and other contexts, which isn't fair on the student, especially as everyone telling them they'll fail will potentially cause a self-fulfilling prophecy.


  4. That's a good point and in my view a flaw with the sixth form system in general – students generally won't know if they're good or bad at a subject until it's too far along to pick up something else instead.In terms of basic subjects like Maths, English, Science etc., students can make educated guesses about how they will do on those courses based on their experiences at lower levels. When making course choices for their future however, it can be a lot more difficult for students to work out how proficient they will be in a particular course.Whilst most schools offer some kind of sample lessons to give an idea of what the course will be like, they generally tend to be very basic and don't tend to be an accurate portrayal of the course. Students might pass on subjects that would be perfect for them because of this first impression.As for your comment on teachers and parents, I agree entirely. Whilst it can be understood why teachers and parents encourage what they believe to be the right path for the student, they don't appear to realise what the effects of their negative stances towards other subjects are.It would be nice if we could reach a point where teachers care about a students progression in all subjects instead of getting high grades for the sake of league tables, but at this point I don't think that'll be likely any time soon.


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