I just want to say before I start this post that I love the program Loose Women. Despite others queueing up to slate it, I believe it’s a great format and often opens my eyes to opinions expressed by its panellists which I had never previously considered.
Every so often, though, it riles me. God, does it rile me! The subject which usually gets me feeling this way is that of exams. This is because there seems to be just as many Loose Women queueing up to completely tear into the education system and those going through it as there are those doing so to criticize the ITV show. Today was one of those days.
I feel I should clarify before you start reading the main body of this text that I am a sixteen-year-old who has just entered into A-Levels, so therefore finished my GCSEs only in May. As a result, the memories of Key Stage 4 are still fresh, which makes writing this even easier – if my anger wasn’t enough.
With Education Secretary, Michael Gove announcing yesterday that there are plans for the GCSE system to be scrapped by the year 2015, to be replaced by the English Baccalaureate, it was inevitable that those Loose ladies would offer their opinion. And that they did, right at the top of the show – it was the first topic they discussed, with anchor Andrea McLean posing the question:
“Is testing children with one end of year exam [what is involved in the English Baccalaureate] a fair way of assessment?”
A fair question. I have my own view and today’s panellists – the aforementioned Andrea, Denise Welch, Carol McGiffin and Jane McDonald – did too. However, just as I anticipated, I took umbrage to their opinions.
So, rather than write a general article about what each of them said, why I disagree with it, etc., I am simply going to appeal to each of them individually…and in those appeals tell them why I disagree. So, first of all…
Carol, you have controversial views on Loose Women. It’s the reason why everyone – including myself – has grown to love you over your incredible nine years’ service to the show. I don’t usually mind your controversial statements and so often concur but I find myself seldom doing so when the matter in hand is education, and examinations in particular.
Today, Carol, you said that the EBacc – to give it its abbreviated name – is “a much fairer way”, in answer to the question asked by Andrea McLean. Of course, this is your opinion and not much controversy can be drawn from it as of yet. This is the first point, however, where I must disagree and express my own view. From what has been said by the Education Secretary, I understand that rather than have modules or continued assessments across the two years of Key Stage 4, there will simply be one or two exams at the end of the course. How, Carol, is this fair? Not everyone is academic and able to retain information when sat at a desk in an exam hall, faced with an allotted time in which to complete that exam and secure their future. At least with the GCSE system, there was a healthy mixture of both coursework and exams. Yes, that’s right – contrary to popular belief, GCSEs weren’t all about writing compositions, handing them in and then forgetting about them until you receive your apparently inevitable A* in August. Therefore, with the GCSE system, everyone was catered for: you had the coursework for those who didn’t excel in exams and vice-versa. Now, however, it’s just an exam. How is that fair?
You then went on to say that “there’s too much access to information”, implying that your thoughts are that you can basically sit back and let the internet – which I presume you were referring to when you said this – do all of the work. Oh, Carol! I thought you were less naive than that!
For just one part of English Literature at GCSE, my peers and I had to create an essay on Of Mice and Men, explaining to what degree the author presents the characters within the novel as disadvantaged. We had an allotted time in which to do this – I think it was four hours – in controlled conditions, i.e. we had no internet access, textbooks or anything – we had a pen, some paper and a copy of the text: the minimum that we needed for the task in hand. All of that assignment was done within the classroom, under strict exam conditions. We couldn’t take any work home, we couldn’t bring any research in, neither could we ask each other or our teacher for help. This is the way it genuinely was, and the way it should have been, too, so we in fact were not allowed all of the technology and aids which you and, tragically, so many others believe we were and those currently studying are.
In truth, I remember doing coursework for English Literature (as I’ve just stated), Drama and perhaps Business & Communication Systems (BCS). That’s it. That’s three out of nine of the subjects which I took at GCSE level. And guess what? Even with the third of subjects which involved coursework, we still had exams in them. Thus, even if you did the nigh on impossible and in fact ‘cheated’ with the minimal coursework, the truth would out in the additional exam(s), meaning that those who cockily thought they would get the grades they wanted – not deserved, but wanted – would be brought back down to earth with the end-of-year examination.
You also claimed on Loose Women today that “everyone seems to get near-enough the same results”. Carol, with a GCSE qualification, you can get an A*, A, B, C, D, E, F, G or U (Unclassified/Ungraded). That’s nine grades. Fs, Gs and Us are extremes so that leaves you with six grades – A*-E. Spread those six across the UK and of course it will seem that we’re getting “the same” grades by some bogus system but that simply isn’t the case! It is, in reality, merely down to the law of averages and the candidates’ intelligence
Just like with Carol, I am a huge fan of yours, Denise: I read and adored Pulling Myself Together, I voted for you countless times on Celebrity Big Brother and Dancing on Ice and only today I was in town looking at Starting Over. However, even with my following of your career and so on, I can’t help but be angered by what you said on Loose Women today. According to you, “it seems par for the course that you get As and A stars”. No it is not! Try telling that to all those sixteen-year-olds up and down the British Isles who were handed their exam results last month and found a long list of Cs or even Ds and below! Try telling that to the thousands and thousands of students who studied relentlessly for two years, only to find that they achieved an insulting grade for English apparently due to some mistake made by examining boards. Try telling that to them, Denise!
Let me give an example from my own experiences. I was always poor when it came to Maths – just as you always claim to be on Loose Women. Therefore, when it came to entering into GCSE Maths, I put my all into it and did manage to get an A. That was for hard work, not because it was handed to me on a plate. While I got that A and expected a C (or B if I was lucky), I have a friend who was predicted to get an A at least in Maths. He got a B. It’s not easy.
On the other hand, I also toiled and did absolutely everything I could to try and achieve As in Drama and French, as those were two of the subjects I wanted to study at A-Level. I did extra homework, I attended the Drama rehearsals every single lunchtime – and more besides. I wrote a Blood Brothers assignment no fewer than four times, Denise, but I still managed to only attain a B grade in both subjects. Yes, a B is good but it just goes to show, doesn’t it, that although I put 100% into these subjects in particular, an A or an A* wasn’t given to me because, let’s be honest, I clearly didn’t do enough to warrant getting one. I wasn’t given an A just for the sake of it and I’m so pleased that I wasn’t given what I didn’t deserve. I just didn’t excel at those subjects, end of.
You really baffled me on today’s show, Jane. You really did. For some reason wholly unknown to me, you saw fit to claim the following:
“All I see is all these exams that are being passed at these fantastic rates, and well done to everyone, but they can’t even write and they can’t read.”
Oh please do wake up and smell the coffee, Jane! Do you honestly, wholeheartedly think that if you have no basic knowledge of literacy and numeracy, you will be able to waltz into an exam hall, scribble any old rubbish down and then emerge with an A or, God forbid, A*? Why can’t you see that this is not only offensive but absolutely bloody ludicrous?
I’m not going to pretend that there weren’t people who had no respect for the education system, let alone that of the GCSE, but those who fall into the ‘Disrespectful’ category cover only…well I’d say 0.5%, if that, of secondary school students across the UK. That’s because, contrary to popular belief, 99.5% of us want to learn, and do well the honest way – if we do well at all. Surely that’s no shock?
I know you and Carol – who I would say are the biggest critics of the GCSE system on the panel – don’t have children. Therefore, you won’t know what it’s like to see a teenage boy or girl come in from a hard, packed day at school and go straight upstairs in order to complete homework and revision which will eventually pay dividends. If you did, however, you’d know that that is what sees them through their examinations, and that the overwhelming majority of them do it. I’m sure you would also not continue to pontificate in the same way about GCSEs, stating that ‘it was much harder in your day’. Instead you would congratulate your loved one on their achievement. At least I hope you would.
Finally, I come to you, Andrea. I have saved you until last because, not only were you one of the last to share your opinion on the topic, but it is yours which perhaps irked me the most. You said you’re pleased your son Finlay won’t be able to “go into a room with an iPad and a calculator and everything else to do all of the work for him.”
“An iPad”? An iPad? Please get real, Andrea! Your grossly hyperbolic statement is truly shocking. I don’t know where you have heard that iPads are used in modern examinations but may I be the first to tell you that it is complete nonsense of the highest order! Mobile phones and MP3 Players are rightly banned from the exam hall, so why on earth would an iPad be tolerated? Even during ICT exams, all internet access is denied. Whereas it is popular to believe that information is becoming more readily available for students to have in their arsenal for use in their exams, it isn’t! In my last few exams, even the labels on our bottles of water were cut off by an invigilator, lest they should contain any details which we may use to our advantage.
As for calculators being used in Maths exams, there is such a misconception surrounding this. Indeed, there are two examinations for GCSE Mathematics. One is a Non-Calculator paper. The second is – you guessed it! – a Calculator paper. It sounds so easy doesn’t it? Even to me it sounded easy when I first heard about it – Surely this will be a walk in the park, I thought, The easiest exam I have ever taken. In reality, it is the Calculator paper which most students find the most stressful and mentally demanding, as it contains questions which aren’t simple sums which can be easily typed into the old calculator, only for the answer to be materialised and popped down on paper for something ridiculous like ten marks! Instead, the questions on the Calculator paper – and indeed the Non-Calculator paper – demand prior knowledge of formulae and problem-solving. I’ll give you an example of a question from the November 2011 Edexcel GCSE Mathematics Calculator paper:
Steve measured the length and the width of a rectangle.
He measured the length to be 645mm correct to the nearest 5mm.
He measured the width to be 400mm correct to the nearest 5mm.
Calculate the lower bound for the area of this rectangle.
Give your answer correct to 3 significant figures.
For this question, it’s obvious you need to know how to calculate area, how to find the lower and upper bounds of a measurement and how to round to three significant figures. That’s not something a calculator can tell you in an exam. It takes hard work and preparation beforehand in order to succeed with that question. Of course, that’s just one example – another is:
Find the exact solution of x + 3/x = 7
Do you see my point?
I know the Loose Women are only there to do their job, and that is to pass comment on the day’s news and views but this subject was – and is – really close to my heart and it annoyed me somewhat that not one of the women on the panel stood-up for the honest well-doers, of which there are so many.