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Exams, assessments, what for?

I just read an interesting article on the TES. Ms Prescott, president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), said she is concerned about the effect of “over-testing on young people’s state of mind” and their engagement with education.

Formally testing pupils at 16 is “not the best measure” for preparing them for training or further study leading to higher education or employment, she added.

I do agree with her thoughts on this and if exams are the ‘best’ way to prepare our 16 year olds for study, work or training. There is still a big element of mistrust of professional judgment in awarding grades to students, and exams give employers and colleges a truer reflection of student attainment or potential. This leads me on to another question, do employers or colleges actually know what they really want and just go along with the historical value of high exam grades?

I do think it is time for a review and whether or not the best way is teacher assessment or examinations, both are assessing against a set of learning objectives from a subject syllabus. If I was part of a review I would certainly would want to continue with awarding subject grades. However I would also want to add some way of measuring personal development and achievement. This would provide a more holistic picture of our 16 year olds for colleges, employers and themselves. For example, 10 x Grade A* may show that a student is capable of passing exams and graduating as a doctor but does it show she or he has the qualities to become a great doctor?

At Beaconhouse Newlands International School, we are non-selective, but we achieve excellent IGCSE results with 96% of our students being awarded A* to C, in 2020. The students are all local Malaysian students, with English not being their first language. This year we have further developed our programme so students will graduate from Year 11, not only with excellent IGCSE Grades but will also have an Achievement Folder with evidence of further holistic achievements and accomplishments. For example this will include the Duke of Edinburgh International Award with evidence of leadership, community work, creativity and many more competencies. The Personal Development element will be based on the competencies of Emotional Intelligence. This approach shows that not only do we prepare students to pass exams, but we prepare them for life.

By Mr Jarlath Daniel Madine, Principal of Beaconhouse Newlands International School