April 19, 2012

Education and the Examination Swindle - Part 3


Editors note: Alicia Cuddeford is the author of 'Hello the Internet!' at http://ohlookaliciasblog.wordpress.com/. I am glad to have her here to provide a bit of diversity to the arguments, laid out in my recent posts on Education, parts 1 and 2.

Hello fellow CompBlog readers! I was recently asked by Nicolas to write a guest post for his wonderful site, an offer which I could not refuse. It would be nice to write for people other than friends who have taken pity on me for attempting to become a successful blogger. This is also a brilliant forum for writing something worthwhile and showing it to a different audience.

For those unaware of how I write, my blogging style is basically “Think of a subject and then tap hands on keyboard making words that sort of associate with the topic and end up with an incredibly strange piece of text”. However, I have structured and planned this blog, so hopefully it will be coherent.

I think that’s all you need to know — on with the task in hand.

I would like to consider myself a teenager, and like most teenagers, I am in full time education, and probably will be until I leave university at the age of 21.

And like most teenagers, I’m not a fan of our education system. I think it has failed certain groups and individuals.

With permission, I am taking the example of somebody of I know. He just about scraped through his GCSEs, achieving Cs (and the occasional A, to his credit). His expected grades were As/A*s, but his work ethic was non-existent — so what did the teachers do? Well, he was capable of getting a C without doing any revision or extra work, so they left him to his own devices. I would guess that this is because when you go to any secondary school, they show their GCSE results as “87% of our pupils achieved A*-C grade in more than five subjects," for example. Schools (generally — in my experience) don’t care as long as you “pass” — achieve a C, so they can climb higher in the league table of A*-C grades and give the impression of a good reputation.


Progress should be measured on the correlation between your predicted grades (the grade you should achieve) and your expected grade (the grade you will achieve if your work remains at the same standard). This would show a more accurate picture and then perhaps teachers will give a kick up the backside to the more able pupils who are falling behind for whatever reason.

I am no stranger to the “Get everyone to just about pass” way of thinking. When I was in primary school and we were preparing for our SATs, we undertook practise tests, so we knew what to expect when we took the actual examination. The results came back, and the pupils who achieved the higher grades were scattered across the classroom to sit and help those who did not do so well.

I didn’t object to helping these pupils, as it’s unfair for them to fall behind and fail. However, it would have been nice to have been given some extra tuition myself, as when I entered secondary school, children from other schools were already streets ahead my peers and I.

Also, this must have been a horrid self-esteem knock to the people we were helping: “You didn’t do very well on your practice test, but don’t worry! Here’s somebody who is more intelligent than you to help you through your test and realise your mistakes!” It can’t have made them feel all that pleased with their progress.

As the great Albert Einstein said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Everybody is good at something, be it academic or vocational. Primary school can start a lifelong belief in some children that they are not smart enough, and that they aren’t good at anything because the tests are on academic subjects.

In some ways, it is good that SATs are optional in schools now, even if it is because papers got lost and the marking was messed up.

But now, I miss the SATs; they were easy. There is a lot of pressure on me, and others like me at the moment because my exams start in less than a month and we don’t feel ready. I understand these are important qualifications but teachers saying (words to the effect of) “YOU MUST NOT FAIL. YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON THIS. YOU MUST PASS” doesn’t really help matters. “THIS GOES ON YOUR CV FOREVER AND EVERYONE WILL SHUN YOU FOR FAILING!”

And my personal favourite: “ALICIA WHY IS YOUR ATTENDANCE SO POOR? I DON’T CARE IF YOU HAVE VALID DOCTOR’S NOTES AND YOU’RE GENUINELY ILL, YOU WILL FAIL AND DROP A GRADE FOR EVERY DAY YOU MISS. THEN NOBODY WILL LET YOU INTO UNIVERSITY OR HIRE YOU BECAUSE YOU WON’T TURN UP!” This stresses me out the most, and in turn makes me ill. Well done teachers, well done.

There is also the matter of private schools. I am not privately educated, as my parents can’t afford it, and if they could, they wouldn’t send me. It is one opinion that a private education also fails pupils as they don’t experience “the real world” as they go to school every day with people from a similar background.

However, looking at people I know that are or have been privately educated, this is untrue. They’re not judgmental of working class people, and obviously experience “the real world” as all you need to do to see this is switch on the news or drive to your nearest city.

I think private school probably gives the best education and the pupils have a much better work ethic. This may be because it’s more disciplined, or they have the money to produce better resources and offer a better after-school program.

Or success in education could be down to being well motivated in the subjects that you have chosen — private school or state comprehensive.

I hope you enjoyed reading this. If you have any comments and would like to contact me personally, you can do so through Twitter (@aliciacuddeford) or you can email me: [email protected]. Thank you for reading.

And finally, a big thank you to Nicolas for inviting me to write for his blog.

 - Alicia Cuddeford