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Will this be in the exam?

There is no question more designed to annoy a teacher than, 'Will this be in the exam?' At the root of the frustration teachers will feel at the moment these soul-sapping words are uttered is the thought that every minute element of their subject is utterly fascinating. So, how could this question possibly be relevant?

Luckily we don’t hear such questions very often at Truro High – pupils are interested in education for its own sake. They work hard, they do very well in public examinations, but they also genuinely want to know about the world in which they live. I really admire them for that. It would be very easy in the highly-pressured environment of GCSEs and A Levels to take the narrow road. Of course, as a school, we encourage the wide road – the broad approach. Pupils should have an interest in all aspects of the world. In fact, they need to, if they are going to be active global citizens.

At all stages of their education young people need a curriculum which is stimulating and challenging and which demands they reflect on their development as a learner. To my mind this means that in younger year groups pupils should have a very broad curriculum with as many cross-curricular links as possible. Unfortunately, as a result of the demands of Ofsted, some state primary schools have become slaves to a narrow curriculum, where literary and numeracy are almost the sole key drivers. Not only does sport, music and the creative arts suffer, but even history, geography and science. Others primaries of course take a more measured approach, but they can still suffer from a lack of resources when it comes to the activities which some might regard as the icing on the cake, but which I would argue are essential. Primary-aged children should all have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, to play team sports, to debate and take part in public speaking, to grapple with chess, to speak a foreign language, to dance, to design a rocket car . . . In short, learning should be varied and engaging. These are the formative years.

Even in the early years of secondary school, I believe the curriculum and the extra-curricular opportunities should be as wide as possible. At Truro High we believe pupils should have the chance to explore a full range of subjects. With us they study 19 subjects: English, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, French, Spanish, Latin, Geography, History, Religious Philosophy, Computing, Textiles, Art, Drama, Music, Food & Nutrition, Physical Education and PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education). In addition, they can and are encouraged to choose from a myriad of extra-curricular activities. I have an urge to use the phrase ‘co-curricular’ rather than ‘extra-curricular’ here, as some schools do, since, although there is choice, these pursuits are not extra – they are an essential part of a young person’s education. Some girls take more of these opportunities than others, but they all benefit from developing a range of skills. What’s more, these are the years when they can begin to identify their passions – the things which will determine their path in life.

By the GSCE years many young people have started to develop some ideas on where they want to go and it is therefore understandable that they will want an element of choice in the curriculum they study. However, pupils at this age still need a broad and balanced programme of study. For this reason we have a core of subjects at Truro High which all pupils study. This includes not only English Language, English Literature and Mathematics, but also all three sciences, a modern language and Religious Philosophy. Most of our pupils complete ten or eleven GCSE subjects and to my mind this is about right. It is also the number which top-ranking universities are seeking. Fewer than ten and admissions tutors can start to wonder whether the programme of study taken by the pupil has been wide and demanding enough to demonstrate they have skills to succeed at university level. On the other hand, pupils taking 13, 14 or more GCSEs can be viewed with suspicion. Have these pupils had time to pursue other interests and to develop their emotional intelligence? Does the large number of GCSEs suggest an obsession with results rather than an ability to see education as valuable for its own sake?

Beyond GCSE it is understandable that pupils want to specialise. Many have one eye on university for a start. What’s more, the depth of knowledge they need at this level can only be achieved by reducing the number of subjects. However, despite this subject narrowing, it is also an ideal time for pupils to focus on developing a range of other skills. It is at this age that they can really hone their leadership skills, leading the younger pupils in the school. It is at this age that they can develop those valuable research skills needed for university and for so many careers. At Truro High we aim to provide leadership opportunities for all Sixth Form pupils and many develop their research skills through the Extended Project Qualification.

So, the question should never be ‘will this be in the exam?’ The exam is important – it gets you to the next stage – but education is about so, so much more. The question should really be, ‘Will this be in life?’ And the answer is always yes. Nothing is wasted, everything is relevant.

Published by: Dr Glenn Moodie
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