It's that extra bit of colour that makes pupils stand out

28th October 2011 at 01:00
Exam results mean everything to some institutions, but for children they should not be the be-all and end-all

I played a prank the other day. Not since Mr Parker pursued me and my best mate Tom for the damage to his windows inflicted by our slingshots have I experienced the heady delights of a jape. All I did was phone a higher education institution and say that a pupil had joined my school from overseas, they were keen to apply to said institution but . er . were sans qualifications.

Surely, I advanced, the exceptional portfolio of work I could provide that evidenced high-level skill in a number of disciplines, as well as a profound sense of service, duty, commitment and participation, would suffice in place of As and Bs. The next 10 minutes acquainted me with beeping extensions and clicking lines while the bewildered secretary sought to address my enquiry to the right person. She surrendered with the declaration that all applicants had to meet the basic criteria and that was that.

I mention this episode not because it was a lark, but because it illustrates a problem we face in secondary schools. Put simply, the laudable recording of what is called "wider achievement" does not easily translate into the arena of higher education.

In secondary schools, our desire to secure the certainties of exam presentation as the basic structure of the senior phase, speaks not of the excitement of education offering pathways that widen out before pupils as they look forward to a life of learning. It communicates a sense of shutting down, of learning becoming narrower. This sits at odds with the broad, general education and the professed "design principles" of Scotland's new curriculum.

The vitality and potential of Scotland's young people will not be served by more exams. Graduates and school leavers every year are inducted into the revelation that their exam results do not mean as much as they were told. They are of great value, but so are skills and qualities garnered beyond the classroom. Our programmes of accreditation need to catch up with this.

Achievement and attainment are wave and undertow, not sea and shore. We, and our higher education counterparts, can hold these two concepts together and create an experience for our pupils that examines, rewards and offers versatile routes through learning. The concepts of achievement and accomplishment mean more to those outside schools than attainment.

We should be educating our pupils for higher things than exams - for joy, for wisdom, for fulfilment, for the vicissitudes of existence in a world that shifts and transposes as at no time before. That, like Mr Parker's windows, is a serious matter.

Ben Davis, Depute headteacher

Ben Davis is depute head at St Joseph's Academy, Kilmarnock.

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