Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A-Levels Must Test More Than Ticking Boxes

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A-Levels Must Test More Than Ticking Boxes

Article excerpt

Byline: Imogen Stubbs

MY DAUGHTER has just finished her A-levels. Hallelujah! It feels as though we have been in the shadow of these exams since she was about nine. My daughter is off to chill out on a beach in Crete. I am a completely frazzled wreck.

Was it this stressful 30 years ago when I did the same exams? It now all seems to be about learning strategies for getting the grades, rather than learning to love the subjects.

I remember being encouraged to flaunt lateral thinking, original thought and personal revelation to disarm the examiners. I assumed they were immersing themselves in whatever I had written; tut-tutting, chortling, admiring my nerve while despairing at my risible use of the semi-colon.

Is this how it is now? There are many playground rumours and urban myths - about English A-levels being marked by computers, or by people in Indian call centres marking from check-lists. What parent isn't fascinated to know who sets the questions, what is the ideal answer, what level of experience and leeway has the person doing the marking?

Like many parents, I have become alarmed that in certain areas not only am I no longer qualified to help, my input actually jeopardises my children's chances of success. I fear my free-range enthusiasm deviates from the battery-fed facts that seem to be necessary to tick the right assessment objectives.

Like any subjects dwelling in the murky waters of subjectivity, the arts and humanities have always proved fiendishly difficult to examine. My worry is that the teaching of arts subjects is being corseted to something that encourages a clinical approach.

Certainly our children now seem terrified of allowing anything tangential or off-syllabus to impinge on their sensibilities - it won't get them ticks in the right boxes.

At A/S-level Theatre Studies my daughter did a Shakespeare and a Chekhov text, both of which my husband had directed and in which (elsewhere) I had performed. …

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