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Shropshire Star comment: Exams are just one piece of the education jigsaw

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

As the exam season gets into full swing, a lot is riding on how the pupils do.

There are their own prospects and future opportunities.

Dreams can be brought crashing down, university places put at risk, chosen careers become unattainable.

For schools, their reputations are on the line. Nobody wants to be at or near the bottom of any exams league table. The pressure on staff is immense.

Then there are the parents, hoping and praying their children will sparkle and shine in the exams.

In the background, but not very far, are the politicians watching everything with a beady eye.

Ever since Tony Blair said his priority was education, education, education, they have put their oar in with ever-greater intensity.

For those in political power, they want to be able to say that under them educational standards are increasing, while the opposition will seize on any evidence that standards are slipping.

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The upshot of all these factors is that our schools have become pressure cookers.

And there is no relief, even for primary school children who are subjected to tests - not the informal teacher-set tests which have always gone on, but tests imposed with the cold hand of central control.

Teachers are operating in an atmosphere of stress and the imperative for them to get the very best out of their pupils is picked up by the pupils themselves from a tender age.

It is like an infection of stress in the classrooms with the only ones who are immune being those who have a relaxed attitude to exams, which might come from their personal disposition, or alternatively because they have no personal high academic ambitions and simply don't care how well they do.

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There is a balance to be struck, and a judgment has to be made over whether the functions of schools are to be hothouses of academic learning, or whether education should be interpreted much more broadly, with value placed on activities like school trips, sports, and other things for which no exam mark is ever given, but which can give youngsters a preparation for a fulfilling life.

There is, for instance, a crackdown on term-time holidays, but for a child of, say, six, it is at least arguable that an experience of other countries and cultures is educational in the broadest sense.

Academic achievement is important, but making it the sole yardstick by which schools feel they are judged is extracting the joy from learning.

If youngsters can be steered through those stressful exams with flying colours, hurrah to that, but we should always remember that there are other ways pupils can flourish and blossom.

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