Exams hindrance to thinking skills

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Private school head criticises 'spoon-fed' GCSEs. James Graham reports

The current GCSE exams system encourages schools to "spoon-feed" their pupils rather than make them independent learners, according to the head of a successful independent school.

In an otherwise glowing report from inspection agency Estyn, Rougemont school has been told it could do more to promote pupils' independent learning skills.

Dr Jonathan Tribbick, head of the pound;2,550-a-term school near Newport, Gwent, accepted the criticism.

But he said: "A particular challenge for us is to develop our pupils' powers of independent learning. Our task would be easier if there was a change to GCSEs.

"The present exam system encourages spoonfeeding. It's not just for the schools to remedy, it's for Estyn, ACCAC (the Welsh Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority, now part of the Assembly government) and the politicians. It's harsh to be criticised when we're responding to the system that's in place."

Dr Tribbick said he had made a point of this in a letter to the parents of Rougemont's 718 pupils, and included it in his feedback to Estyn.

The agency praised Rougemont, a mixed school catering for children aged three to 18, for the financial acumen of its management team.

Inspectors found that value for money was a priority. Astute use of funds has helped the school provide enough teachers, well-resourced IT suites, a well-stocked library and an artificial grass sports pitch.

It also paid for a new infant school building which recycles rainwater, and has economical lighting and heating systems.

The school has also created a positive environment for learning. Nearly all subjects, across all four key stages, received the top two grades. Estyn's report said there were outstanding features in the pupils' work across the board. Many nursery pupils have understanding and skills beyond those expected for their age, while sixth-formers have a detailed understanding of key principles and concepts.

In 2003 and 2004, pupil attainment was well above national and local averages, and in line with the best-performing schools in Wales.

In 2005, 92 per cent of pupils gained at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C.

Last year some 85 per cent gained grades A-C at A-level.

The inspectors said there was a strong sense of motivation, with pupils arriving on time, settling down to lessons quickly and being well behaved.

The teaching staff received equal praise, exhibiting "very high levels of subject knowledge and proficient use of expertise".

The headteacher has a clear vision and is well supported by the senior management team and the governing body, said Estyn.

In recent years this partnership has led to "notable developments", such as higher standards in early years, more extra-curricular activities and improved accommodation.

Outside the classroom, there is a "valuable contribution" from assemblies and personal and social education lessons. Charity work, community links and extra-curricular activities play an important role in moral and social development.

But there were some criticisms. As well as providing more opportunities for pupils to develop independent learning skills, the school should also take more account of key skills in lessons for primary-aged children, according to Estyn.

www.estyn.gov.uk

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