In early October, a handful of keen RMS debaters ventured out to Westminster to witness a live debate about whether we should ‘end the tyranny of the test’ which ‘demeans education’.
As well as this being an incredibly relevant topic, the debate was further enhanced by the esteemed speakers, all of whom share ties to the education system. Tristram Hunt and Toby Little supported the proposition, in favour of fewer exams, more extended project assessments, and the development of broader analytical skills and creative arts. For the opposition stood Daisy Christodoulou and Toby Young who spoke in favour of a wiser and more extensive use of exams.
As a student, I think it is true that, for many of us, exams place an insurmountable amount of pressure on such young shoulders, which can be challenging to bear. As well as this, it is important to recognize the fact that although children of the developed world are relentlessly examined – with the average pupil taking 70 formal exams in their school career – Britain still falls short in the international rankings of results. We, as a nation, are guilty of obsessing over league tables which in turn serve only to feed the ferocious ‘exam factory’ culture that we have cultivated.
On the other hand, I recognise the fact that exams are an important means of measuring students’ capabilities, as well as those of teachers and schools. I also agree that exams prepare us for the world of work, in which we will be confronted with tasks, deadlines and pressure. It is undeniable that tests serve a purpose in our society, and one which cannot be eradicated overnight. However, it could be said the means by which they are implemented propose some room for change. As Toby Little mentioned, even the Chinese head teacher of a top school in Shanghai admitted that ‘our monolithic exams structure is a juggernaut heading for the edge of a cliff’. This haunting image seems to confirm that the education system may be due for a reform of some sort.
After going to this debate, I have had a lot to mull over. It was incredibly interesting to witness such professional public speaking prowess, supported by the convincing and informative proposals that were put forth. The main message that seemed to dawn on me however was that, unlike the majority of Britain’s schools, RMS manages to obtain a balance between both ends of the debated spectrum; they find a middle ground between excellent exam results and a diverse range of opportunities. I realised how fortunate I am to be educated in a way which combines effective learning and quality teaching with the opportunity to branch out into the creative arts as well. Unlike many schools, RMS succeeds in steering clear of the ‘hothouse’ environment, favouring one which nurtures and encourages. In the words of Toby Little, ‘We need exams, sure, but we also need to let the heart sing’, which is something that every RMS girl is given the opportunity to do.
On behalf of everyone on the trip, I would like to thank Ms Gunn for organising and accompanying us on the trip. It was an excellent opportunity, which not only gave us the chance to develop our debating and analytical skills, but also allowed us to ‘let the heart sing’ in true RMS style.
Katie B, Year 12
Another of our Sixth Formers, Hannah R, who over the summer undertook work experience with the journalist Camilla Tominey, co-wrote this article about the event http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/610160/Eton-former-head-less-exams which was featured in the Express newspaper – congratulations to Hannah on her first printed article in the national press.