Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Here's the old pear tree at the bottom of the garden. You can't really see the size from this photograph, but it's taller than my parents' house, which is next to it. We live in an old Victorian house and my parents' house was built in its grounds in the year 2000.

This tree is probably nearly a hundred years old - it was huge when my parents bought the house in 1959.

Most years, like this year, it is covered in blossom which turns in time into huge, deadly pears that rain down in autumn like coconuts. Any car parked underneath is likely to gain a dented roof. Any person standing underneath is likely to gain a dented head. It's a wonder Health and Safety haven't made us chop it down.

And what does the beautiful blossom make me think of? School exams, that's what. As I trooped off to school for the first of my exams the tree would be in full blossom, the sun would be shining (well, sometimes) and my head would be full of better things to do.

Now, years later, my daughter is doing the same thing: I watched her walk past the tree yesterday, glancing at the blossom on the way to her History exam.

But in the seventies at least, after the torment of O-levels, we had a two-year gap before taking any more external exams. What? Young people in danger of having a bit of fun? Quick, fill the gap with some more exams!

So now they have AS-levels. I think these were originally designed so that people who decided not to take their A-levels after all and so left after the Lower Sixth (or Year 12 as it is now called) would still have some qualifications.

But that isn't how it has worked in practice. No, everybody takes AS levels now, not just those who are planning on leaving, and the grades have become yet another thing to be taken into account when applying for college or university.

I know I worked hard in the Lower Sixth, but at least I only had school exams at the end of it. We're only seventeen once: and exams should only form a small part of the many things that seventeen-year-olds should be doing, which should include going for romantic walks in the countryside and playing the guitar in darkened rooms.

Otherwise we risk bringing about a society where the most intelligent adults have never learned to be creative, to have hobbies, to use some of their leisure time well and to mis-spend some of it. They will only have learned to follow a syllabus and to work for exams.

I shall be old and the world will be full of dull young people who will talk about statistics as they rush past me.

Abolish AS-levels! Now!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Years after leaving university having done a single honours drama course with only 8 other people (although there were over 20 doing it as a joint subject with something else) I met one of my former tutors who had taken two three-hour practical sessions a week with those 9 single honours students. He lamented to me how different the students he presently taught were compared to my year. His main problem with them was that they seemed unable to explore anything for longer than one session and often not even for that long. In my year we could spend three weeks or more (i.e. 18 hours plus) working in a practical way on, say, absurdism but these students would talk about it for a short time then take the position "we've done that, now what?". Perhaps this is a side effect of people in education being pushed through their syllabuses and examined on subjects far more quickly than before.

PS great tree!

11:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which reminds me... I'll have to start strategically putting bits of old carpet on my car to catch the pears!

I agree entirely. People have very little time to just laze about, play games, explore ideas and hobbies in depth and surf the internet for hours on end putting irrelevent comments on people's blogs...

I would like to think that I am more enlightened becasue I can spend time doing this.... oh no wait sorry, I meant lazy.

But seriously I think that all students (GCSE, 6th Form, Uni) have any time to do is academic work and drink.

9:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and don't forget; it isn't only the summer that is messed up with exams. Christmas is also overshadowed by end of module exams for many subjects.
I do think that modular exams are a Good Thing, but am angered by the frenzy of nagging the staff build up. Yesterday, one of them actually told the students to bring in a packed lunch, rather than to 'waste their time' going into town to buy something in their lunchbreak. (I remember her as a pupil at that same school 10 years ago; I never thought she'd turn into one of THEM.)
All that nagging does, in my opinion, is to alienate those who don't really care, and burn out those who do.

9:32 am  

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