We must think more courageously about assessment, says head

The headmistress of an independent day school for girls in London says ‘it feels like choices are narrowing' with exam qualifications

The headmistress of City of London School for Girls (CLSG), has said the narrowing of exam choice is far from what is required for the 21st century workforce.

“It feels like choices are narrowing in our exam specifications, in our qualifications, at the very moment when quite frankly what I think we should be trying to do is protect that choice and think more courageously and more interestingly about our assessment to prepare 21st century pupils for the 21st century workplace,” said Jenny Brown at the Girls’ Schools Association’s (GSA) annual conference, which continues today.

She said: “We’re actually being tunnelled into this, what will become, quite homogeneous A-level provision.”


You might also like: VAT on school fees will cost, not save, the state money, says GSA president


With this month’s news that Cambridge Assessment International Education will administer its Pre-U qualification for the last time in 2023, GSA headteachers are concerned about what this means for pupils and staff.

Helen Jeys, headmistress at Alderley Edge School for Girls, commented on the Pre-U: “The staff are really upset that it’s going.”

Brown said: “It allowed heads of department to make a really strategic choice for the school, which is a really empowering and important thing for them to do and that’s gone now. Of course, they can decide between AQA and Edexcel but they are of a muchness. I liked the global perspective it offered. It had this opportunity for breadth and also being more vigorous.”

Rose Hardy, headmistress of Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls, also talked about the “terrible treadmill” of GCSEs and the balancing act between student wellbeing and the rigours of exams.

Brown said: “Frankly if we were being really brave we would all just say ‘right that’s it, no more GCSEs, farewell’. They are outmoded, uninteresting and draining frankly, I personally don’t think they deserve the space they get.”

Frankly if we were being really brave we would all just say ‘right that’s it, no more GCSEs, farewell’. They are outmoded, uninteresting and draining frankly, I personally don’t think they deserve the space they get

Hardy added: “I think many heads would say that in thirty years time, maybe sooner, we’ll look back and say what we were doing now with young people is the equivalent of what the Victorians did with building their school rooms with windows high up so they couldn’t look out, and putting people in dunce caps, I honestly do.”

The heads also discussed career salaries and whether this should affect what children study. Brown said: “Their choice should not be governed by whether it does or does not have a certain earning capacity. It has to be about the intrinsic joy and love of the subject.”

The GSA conference ends today with presentations on the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, Brexit and sustainability.