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Early exam rush comes under fire

One of Scotland's top educationists has criticised the policy of schools entering pupils for examinations at an early stage.

Brian Boyd, professor of education at Strathclyde university, said the obsession with exams, targets and school results "is hardly the approach to learning likely to encourage these young people to want to be lifelong learners".

Writing in the latest edition of Scottish Headlines, the journal of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, Professor Boyd observed: "Teaching for understanding is a luxury. Surface learning is the name of the game and deep learning rarely takes place in the rush towards the exam."

Professor Boyd, a former headteacher, said that if he was still in charge of a school, "I would try to delay formal exams until as late as possible, and if 'dry runs' are felt to be necessary, I'd simply arrange for them to happen. I would try to find ways of creating challenge in the curriculum, or outside it.

"I'd suspend the timetable, say once a term, and have a challenge day (science, maths, the arts?) in which pupils would form cross-stage teams and battle it out to find the most creative solutions to real-life problems.

"I'd introduce as many approaches to thinking skills as possible. I'd encourage staff to learn from one another, investing as much of the CPD money on shadowing of classes and shared observation as on external courses. And we'd do a lot of talking about values and valuing and about how we as teachers learn and about new ways of doing this job."

Professor Boyd also called for the arts to be at the centre of the curriculum to challenge the dominance of the traditional academic subjects, and he suggested schools should be able to do this using the new freedoms which will follow from the curriculum review.

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