There is nothing like August to focus the mind on the nature of examinations and our reliance on them as a society. One bad couple of hours can result in a mark that loses you a university place and a future career. Other students simply do not ever show their real strengths in a tightly time controlled situation. There is no doubt that all exam systems play to the strengths of people who work in certain ways, regardless of overall ability, intelligence, motivation and sheer hard work.
There are various alternatives to A Levels around and KEHS has reviewed these in depth and will no doubt do so again in the future. No system is ever perfect. All have the inherent problems mentioned above. All offer the best student experience where there are able, inspiring teachers and a less satisfactory experience where there are not.
A Levels are taken by the huge majority of 18 year olds and therefore students are tested against a serious mass. It is an exam understood by employers and universities. The fact that we get virtually everyone who has missed a grade in a university offer a place, despite the slipped grade, is largely because universities know exactly what they are getting. A Levels allow time to study subjects and take on activities that are not done for the sake of an exam, but for themselves. Girls at KEHS can take courses in politics, history of art, geographical issues just because they are interested. They all study critical thinking, a philosophy course, and if they want can take an exam in it, though the majority prefer just to enjoy the course free of the limitations exam marking criteria. They can choose to pursue a piece of independent research right outside their A Level subjects, as well as those they do as a piece of course work. This year I listened to a fascinating presentation on the development of fairy tale in film. There is time for them all to take part in community service, not as a box ticking exercise but because they know it is a valuable contribution to society in itself. And then there is plenty of time to choose from the rich array of extra-curricular activities on offer.
Does that mean the girls aren’t working very hard? Well, ask the vast majority of the girls picking up results in August if they could have worked harder and you would get short shrift. They have been through a tremendously packed two years that has offered intellectual rigour and depth where they have been able to play to their strengths as well as freedom to develop as individuals.
About MeSarah Evans is Principal of King Edward VI High School for Girls. She is taking a sabbatical from her school summer 2011 to explore other organisations. Sarah has been at KEHS for 15 years. She is a governor of other schools, chairs ISCtip, the independent sector's teacher induction arm, and acts as a trustee for a number of local charities. Sarah is married with one son, taking A Levels summer 2011!
Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.