BLOG: Let’s play fair and stop the clock on timed assessments

Last week a report claimed that one in five students in independent schools received extra time to complete GCSE and A-level exams last year. Our CEO Steve Docking asks if the real issue is whether or not timed assessments are an effective way to test a pupil’s true ability.

I had to Google a phrase in this article to see what it means; ‘Proper resourcing’ – the application of skills or money applied to a situation to make the job easier. There’s nothing wrong with proper resourcing and, in fact, it’s the best approach to all situations but when you apply this phrase to children and exams doesn’t this imply gaining an advantage?

Many may argue that privately educated pupils are already at an advantage and now ‘skills and money’ applied to the world of exams perhaps buy children more time? Suddenly this starts to feel unfair. However, bashing independent schools is not the answer, no matter how divisive the ‘proper resourcing’ comments feel. The problem isn’t even the ever increasing expectations of the exams themselves, the problem is time.

Exams are designed to test children’s understanding of the work they have studied over many years. Children at primary level spend seven years learning to read and develop a love of books. They are encouraged to read at home with their parents each night, read with teachers, read with support staff, read with volunteer parents. They have daily phonics lessons for years; group read; have guided reading sessions and celebrate World Book Day and so on.

Then in Year Six we give them – drum roll, please – an hour to show what they can do and can’t do.

Now, I’m not proposing that we shouldn’t have a reading test but why on earth do we time it? Timing merely adds unnecessary pressure and doesn’t allow any child to show what they can do it, it just demonstrates how fast they can do it. Complete and utter nonsense! If we were able to administer tests and just allow the children the time they needed to complete the task in hand we wouldn’t need ‘proper resourcing’ at all.

The educational divide between those who pay for schools and those who don’t will never go away. But the playing field could be much more level if we created an education system that actually tested children on what they have learnt. If we continue to make tests harder whilst keeping the time to do the tests the same, we are not measuring a child’s true knowledge or ability.

So the real point of the article should not be how many children have access to ‘proper resourcing’ it should be why do we need this at all? Remove timings for all exams, test children’s knowledge properly and life will be far fairer!

After all I am running my first marathon this year, I’m training hard and while I may finish last I will still have run the same distance as the others, just a bit slower but no less exhausting! If I did all that hard work and someone stopped me at mile 18 because the time was up, what would have been the point?