Schools must inspire pupils or pay the price

3rd September 2010 at 01:00

The message conveyed to British students about how to approach education is to earn good grades and in return you might get into a "good" university. How to do this? Play to the examiner. You can do that by paying scrupulous attention to past papers (a teacher, therefore, is not necessarily essential). What not to do? Write anything that is not required on the syllabus.

"Personal flair", as the exam board likes to call it, now comes simply from regurgitating information with confidence. One fears for the health of the imagination. What is upsetting is that some of the most articulate and creative people don't get A grades and (hold your breath) sometimes fail exams. Maybe the style of GCSEs, AS and A-levels doesn't suit everyone.

We can't be told to aim for things without being inspired. The British education system has failed if it does not inspire every student, whether they will get an A* or not. I am in the fortunate position to go to a school where many of the teachers are aware of this. Its approach to the curriculum means I studied 10 texts in great depth for English literature, whereas if I'd picked the GCSE, I would have studied three.

My most memorable, enriching, inspiring lessons have been when teachers strayed from the syllabus and shared their perception on a topic. This is when we learn what feels like the most important things. I'm disappointed to say that what follows these transcendent lessons are collective feelings of guilt and anxiety. There is the guilt from knowing a lesson has been lost which could have gone towards the final exam and anxiety caused by the worry of how to get back on track. The other feeling is longing - longing for every lesson to be a digression into richness.

Something is wrong. Naturally, there is no overnight solution, but I expect educators and politicians to have the courage to explore the problem, not ignore it.

Nina Hemmings, Sixth-form student, Bedales School, Hampshire.

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