A Year In Reception (Or Why GCSE’s Aren’t Too Easy)

In a couple of weeks Boy will ‘graduate’ Reception. His first full school year will be done. There’s pretty much a summer fair and a sports day and a project share left and then that’s it. The Other Half gets him for 6 weeks then he joins Year One.

This popped in to my mind, laterally, on the way home from work today as I logged on to Twitter and got directed to this rather wonderful article by Michael Rosen on O levels versus GCSEs.

It’s well worth a read in entirety but one phrase jumped out at me.

“In so far as anything resembling a policy is emerging here, that’s about the only one I can discern: make the exams harder in order to get more students failing”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard Pub Philosophers and Train Bores opine that so many kids are passing GCSE with A* these days ‘because they’re so much easier’. I’ve always wondered ‘where’s the evidence’? Could this be the out-loud snarking of an older generation, with less impressive grades, trying to make excuses for why these young whipper snappers are making them look the exam equivalent of Eddie the Eagle? There is a rather unscientific test here (I struggled with both) but to get proper empirical evidence you’d probably have to train the same child in both syllabuses then get them to answer each paper, answering a question from each alternatively, then apply EXACTLY the same marking criteria to both papers (fairly easy for Maths, impossible for many of the arts). So I am left with the opinion (yes, just an opinion) that having kids fail exams for the sake of it does no one any good. However if you are after a bit of science on the subject then Rosen’s article does provide some pretty clear advice on why following the model adopted in Singapore may not be wise as Singapore itself is moving away from it. I also think this* may be a valid reason).

So what the heck does this have to do with Reception class and my family? Well, I believe that just this first year is starting to support my opinion that, actually, kids these days are a lot smarter.

Last night I put Boy to bed and he read ME a bedtime story. He can count in 2s, 3s and 10s. He knows all his planets in the Solar System, in order, can write his name joined up and is starting to write (admittedly badly spelled but STILL) stories. He knows that David Cameron is the Prime Minister (though he hasn’t yet adopted my practice of trying to burn him with eye lasers whenever he appears on the television screen) and that he works in the Houses of Parliament (when he’s not holding expensive kitchen suppers, my addition again) and that these are situated in London. On Saturday he drew the Olympic Rings hanging off Tower Bridge even though he hadn’t seen them in real life.

All this he has been taught to a greater degree by his school. Next year he will be doing logging on to a computer amongst other new talents. For all I know they’ll be building real rocket ships.

When I was 5 there were no computers to log on to and, though my parents taught me to read at a very early age, my writing was appalling, I could not draw and my lifeskills extended to picking my nose.

Sure there are kids in his class not coping as well but (and here massive credit to his school) the more able kids are not streamed off but encouraged to help the ones who are struggling. If only that continued going forwards.

I will, always, be worried about both my children’s educations. At the moment his Junior School place is looking far from certain. By the time he gets to 11 will there just be Grammar Schools and Academies? Will it be back to ‘O’ Levels. Will the government have succeeded in taking education kicking and screaming back to the 1950s in other words? I don’t know. There is a long road ahead. All I do know is that, given his progress in Reception he is going to be knocking my own, very average, GCSE results in to the proverbial cocked hat. It would be nice if the systems in place allowed him to take as many of his peers with him as he could instead of attempting to consign a good deal of them to failure for no better reason than nostalgia.

*An Indian, A Sudanese and a Singaporean are sitting an exam. The first question says ‘in your opinion what is the nutritional value of beef’?

The Indian asks ‘what is beef’? The Sudanese  asks ‘what is nutritional value’? And the Singaporean asks ‘what is an opinion’? (whipped from the rather wonderful Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux).

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