The Lost Spring

The sun is out; buds are opening and a customary crop of spring articles on exam preparation sprout in time for the Easter holidays: Top Tips for Revision season; Easter Revision: how to crack it and from the departing Headmaster of Wellington College, Anthony Seldon, Exams put children under ‘vile cruel pressure’. Hyperbole maybe, but with half my (exam-bound) household down with flu, I am more alive than ever to the curse of the revision season, which blooms with the blossom every year.

Will we look back as a nation and wonder what on earth we were doing imposing important public exams on our teenaged children for all of their final three years in school? Gove may be a spent force, but one part of his legacy at least deserves acclaim. His decision to (in effect) dispense with AS levels will at long last, claw back one exam free year for our 15-18 year olds.

Exams are vital. They have their place. External, robust markers of attainment in final exams however flawed, are indispensable. But is there anyone left who really feels that the extra AS level year of cramming revision, of building anxiety, of criteria-chained learning has provided any extra benefits to our university students and workforce?

Rather, universities complain that they have to start from scratch with students who struggle to move away from the bite-size learning of modular courses and the country struggles to manage critical levels of mental health disorders in adolescents and young adults. The causes are of course complex, but come on, guys, some of this maths is easy. 3 unbroken years of exams = increase of pressure and stress in school leavers.

Let’s build in a vent year. A Year 12 to explore, to grow, to learn without the pressure of life-defining public exams squatting all over the summer term, must surely be part of the solution.

I am delighted that our school is offering just this year to its 17 year olds next year. Our Year 12s will embrace the confidence-building, life-enhancing extra-curricular activities, the Saturday jobs and wider intellectual adventure that an exam-free year can allow.

And for one of their final years at school they will rediscover the sun, the blossom and the fun of Spring!

Jenny Brown, St Albans High School for Girls