For many years senior schools have competed in climbing higher and higher up the GSCE and A-level league tables by becoming increasingly academically selective (taking only children with the highest test and standardised scores). This has proven to be short-sighted because it profits neither the pupils nor the school long term. It has, however, been extremely lucrative for the tutoring industry.
Parents have flocked in their numbers to engage private tutors of varying qualities in their quest to increase scores and acquire places in the most prestigious and selective schools. This has resulted in schools filling their places with children who have high CATs scores but who cannot think beyond the obvious or without the constant direction and reassurance of their tutors. They have spent little time enjoying learning for learning’s sake, being excited and enthused by the curriculum, being encouraged to be creative, or to ask questions and discuss their ideas. In short, this desire for the ‘best’ has resulted in children who can pass tests but who do not necessarily have the skills to be successful in life.
Children that are too used to being spoon-fed with their learning often don’t have the courage or determination to take risks and learn positively from their mistakes. As such, schools are now starting to wake up to this dire situation and are making radical changes. They are determined to spot the tutored child by redesigning their assessment process.
Gone are the predictable tests and exams we once saw and in their place are assessment days filled with group activities, collaborative problem-solving, Harkness discussions and other innovative opportunities for children to demonstrate their higher level thinking skills. Children need to be able to show leadership attributes, confidence, the ability to think beyond the obvious and have something original and interesting to say. None of these skills can be acquired in Saturday morning tutoring sessions or in last-minute directions by over-anxious parents.
This new wake up call will allow prep and feeder schools to teach an innovative and academically rigorous curriculum using methods which require children to think creatively, take risks and communicate their understanding. Teachers can encourage risk-taking, use innovative teaching methods and go beyond the restraints of the examination syllabus when necessary. Children can be given greater opportunities and experiences to enrich their learning and further develop their resilience, curiosity, confidence, independence and wellbeing. 3
Ultimately, we will be producing accomplished and well-rounded individuals who will go on to their senior schools with much to offer and achieve well in their public exams. Academically successful yes, but also able to think, play a musical instrument proficiently and with enjoyment, participate in sport with enthusiasm, be able to think outside the box, debate with intelligence, be healthy and above all, value their education for education’s sake. A much-needed breath of fresh air for us all.