What are we doing to our children (Pupils tell of new GCSEs’ toll on their mental health, 23 June)? My daughter is part of this year’s GCSE cohort, the first guinea pig year of the government’s new “hostile environment” for secondary students. Having revised her socks off, she is now thoroughly demoralised. Questions in every subject paper taken so far seemed designed not to allow her to shine, but to frustrate; to highlight what students couldn’t know rather than what they have covered in depth. In their pursuit of a statistical drop in higher grades, examiners seem to have intentionally set questions that either fall outside the expected material or are so ambiguously worded that it becomes a lottery how many will interpret them correctly. This “Lady or the Tiger” trial by ordeal, certainly in the case of my daughter, is a loss of love for the subjects she was looking forward to at A-level. The instilling of passion is the most important role of an educator. The examination system now seems intent on doing quite the reverse.
• Reading pupils’ comments, I found I was weeping by the time I got to the end because I know the stories are completely true and not down to teenage hysteria. My granddaughter worked so hard throughout this long exam period, shutting herself away and suffering from migraines and stress-related withdrawal. To think that this experience was multiplied in families across the country is heartbreaking. My son and daughter-in-law became anxious to the point that their own lives became difficult. Should we be subjecting our 16-year-olds to this torture? Might we weed more gently? I note at the end of the article you give a contact number for the Samaritans. Shame on you, Michael Gove, I will never forgive you!
• When a child asks “Do they want us to fail?” the answer is “yes”. England’s exam regime is based on grading rather than individual achievement. Attempts to recognise what pupils understood and could do rather than placing them in competition with each other when GCSEs was first introduced failed. Our education system is based on enabling a small number to achieve top academic scores in order to attend certain universities, while “failing” the rest. Any attempts to recognise actual achievement is described as “grade inflation”. The grades adjusted to “fail” more pupils.
• Politicians on both sides seem hellbent on creating systems that produce citizens in their own image. The still largely Oxbridge-educated and male-dominated House of Commons doesn’t value diversity in people. The ability to pass an exam may have been useful for them, but in the real world the ability to get on with people and be creative trumps a list of high grades. Modernising our education system is essential: the latest changes to the GCSE system has done the exact opposite.
Stoke on Trent
• Sombre but not surprising reading to those of us charged with preparing students for these exams this summer. The stress on students is probably exacerbated by the pressure on teachers to prepare students for the exams and deliver predicted grades with limited resources from exam boards, and no idea of grade boundaries. We are playing a waiting game with fingers crossed.
Hastings, East Sussex
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