Last week I was lucky enough to spend time with other professionals from across the country at an education conference. It is always a positive experience, as we all thrive on each other’s enthusiasm for both our continued learning as adults and excitement at discovering new ways to reach out to the children in our care.
While at the conference I found I finally understood a mathematical concept that had passed me by as a young learner. What a revelation: a few coloured squares and what at the time had seemed to be an unfathomable number sentence actually made sense. Wow.
As teachers, we all want to give pupils wow moments. This ‘wow’ got me thinking about the other speakers I had listened to during the week; one had asked for the pupils we send them to show higher order skills, so they could have them in the right place as they started in year 9 ready to begin the GCSE syllabus. We are talking 12 and 13-year-old children; ready as a matter of course to start GCSE. I agree children need skills for the future, but these need to be appropriate and it’s no wonder it is harder to find those truly inspiring moments as we grind pupils down with Common Entrance and scholarship at such unrealistic heights. Concerns about mental health in schools are growing. Forward thinking schools are recognising this danger. Schools such as The North London Girls’ School Consortium are abolishing their entrance exams amid fears that it is putting children’s mental health at risk.
It was therefore so refreshing to have my decision of some 5 years or so ago to come out of Common Entrance for Religious Studies and to begin this process for the other Humanities, reaffirmed, by listening to two other passionate advocates of ‘No More CE’. We all agree that this doesn’t mean the subject has been reduced in any way; on the contrary RS is more relevant and vibrant then ever before. We cannot ignore Religion in today’s society. It is vital to understanding the world in which we live. Tolerance, empathy, compassion are but a few of the qualities that are studied as the girls explore other religions and cultures whilst comparing them with Christianity.
‘No more Common Entrance’ gives back at least three weeks of teaching, which can be used to explore, debate and inspire. There is still assessment, but it can be in the form of a speech or an interview as well as the more traditional essay writing. These lessons are a brief respite from the threat of exams for the children, which means the tasks and lesson can be realistically tweaked to meet the interests of the class in front of you; a refreshing moment for teacher and pupil.
As teachers, we owe it to the children to equip them for the future – not only with practical skills and knowledge but with passion and excitement too. Cramming ten exams of 60 to 90 minutes each, into four days, is not assessing their skills or knowledge but rather their endurance. If senior schools want pupils to arrive with enquiring minds, who show enthusiasm for learning, ask questions and are independent learners then they need to rely less on an outdated system. Surely it would be better for the profession and the pupils if we can share our enthusiasm with our children in a genuine way.