by Spokey Wheeler
International Director, Adhyayan
Shishuvan school this week got its first ever Standard 10 examination scores some three months after receiving permanent ICSE accreditation. With no child gaining an award lower than 1st Division the school was justly proud.
As their Adhyayan assessor and coach I was almost as eager as the school to hear how they had done. And because of my previous incarnation as a serial secondary school principal I couldn’t help slipping in to UK results mode, questioning the data to work out the school performance story behind the statistics.
And yet beyond the impressive headline about the school only having 90%er and 1st Division students what surprised me was that the greatest interest of the school team was in the performance of individual children – an approach I found enormously refreshing and markedly different to much of my earlier experience.
Amongst the real celebration, most of it by mobile phone, there was none of the hullabaloo that was a part of every results day I can remember. The journalists weren’t waiting on the doorstep. Nobody was phoning round to check on how the other schools had done. Most remarkable was that there was no palpable tension amongst the staff senior team as the hour approached. In fact, because the results were received electronically, by school and child alike, there was no need even to go to school.
Other than adding my warm congratulations to the principal I thought no more of it until last night when the internet dropped. At a loose end I went to my writing folder. But instead of doing what I should have done, carry on with a piece on the UK ‘Free School Movement and its implications for India, I started browsing my old articles. And that was when I found this piece. I wrote it following examination results day in Hampshire 2003. It offers a very different perspective to Mumbai 2012!
As Well as can be Expected
Every year on results day I dream of feigning illness and staying home. The trouble is I’m the principal and although I feel sick I’m not really ill. I’m just suffering from a stress which attacks my psyche and jeopardises my equilibrium.
I’ve got examitis. This chronic virus makes me increasingly dependent on what other people think or say about my school’s performance to the exclusion of all other evidence. How will our community, especially those parents potentially seeking admission to The Wavell view our results? What will the governors, our staff, the local authority and of course the media think and say? No wonder that by now I’m more interested in how to market my school’s results in the most flattering light than I am in what they mean.
As always, I started worrying long before the exam results were published but far too late to do anything about improving them further. Publicly I’m confident, relaxed. Inside my head it’s a different matter. Can’t be too severe though since Year 11 exam revision has only appeared on our management team’s agenda three times during May and June. I did wobble a bit when the students went on study leave but the success of our coursework catch up strategy stopped me losing all sense of balance.
At last the results arrive in school. Why does it always take so long to download them? I pretend disinterest. When at last the printout comes off the machine I casually bury my hands in my pockets where you can’t see them shaking.
Forget average points scores, value-added indicators and all that guff I believe about being a real comprehensive. I’m interested in one statistic and one only. It’s the one that the public knows best. “So what ‘s the 5A*-C percentage”. I’ve put off replying to the newspapers and the radio station until I know that score.
The relief is enormous. It’s going to be all right. Within an hour we know we’ve gone up by about 10%.
By the end of Wednesday I’ve scheduled the media, listened to the evening broadcasts, and decided our own headlines: Our best ever results on top of four consecutive years improvement, wonderful Maths scores, and our boys outperforming the girls.
But while It’s all true why don’t I feel elated. I guess because I know I’ve already begun to worry about next year and its targets and because whatever our school’s performance it will never be enough for me.
So on Thursday as the kids find out how they have done, the real story is their one. It is their day more than it is ours. Yes the results are important but they only tell part of the story of the successes and challenges of my school.
As I drive away from the school I decide on some actions which reflect my perceptions and the culture of our school. I will:
• Celebrate the real success of our kids and be ready to help those who need it
• Congratulate the department teams and individuals who exceeded everyone’s expectation
• Thank everyone for their commitment and hard work, especially those whose achievement has to be measured against the adversity they may have suffered. Because those staff are likely to have worked harder than anyone
• Do everything in my power to give them a fair to even chance of starting on a flat playing field
• Put the results in to context and use them as just another piece of information to help us get a little closer to the horizon
• And oh yes, phone up Clive, a local head and congratulate him for his school’s success. And be proud of ours because we should be
Examitis is never as bad as I expect but it is an unwanted interference to the real business of schooling. This year I coped better than usual because I helped to prepare some of our students for the examinations and deep down I wanted to find out how they did as much as I did the whole school.
I loved being out there in the quad with the kids when they were opening their results because that was where the real difference was evident. How they did, and how they take the next step is much more important than simply how their achievement is viewed in the press. And I just have to keep on reminding myself of that.
Back to 2012. The newspapers tell only part of the story. And no just in case you are wondering I don’t want India to replicate how England does it.
The very real pressure of the government for change and its agenda for transforming teacher education are positive indicators. But against the backdrop of the most recent Pisa statistics, of much greater significance, especially with the SSC Boards, is the reality of syllabuses, which in the words of one SSC principal I talked to this week, are founded on “80% rote learned answers”.
Memorisation has its place, probably too little of it occurs in UK classrooms. ‘Drilling’ children in core competencies such as the times table is a pragmatic sensible strategy. But rote learning combined with a slavish conformance to model answers create a classroom and school culture which is antithetical to the National curriculum of 2005 and The National Curriculum framework for Teacher Education of 2009. With no coherent means of judging school effectiveness across the country other than these examinations we have a situation in which there is no compelling reason to change the status quo.
My serious reservations about the system do not diminish my congratulations of the remarkable successes and real endeavor of so many young people in Shishuvan and across the country. But while I prefer India style exam results day the current examination system and its impact on this generation of future citizens leaves me cold. In a hot oppressive Mumbai the score card on this year’s examinations at its most generous reads, ‘Could do better!’ Why? Because until examination papers promote critical thinking and require independent, not rote, responses, improving the quality of teaching and learning in ordinary Indian classrooms will be an uphill task. And of course, the tuition industry will continue to take up the slack as it crams students for exams and our schools and parents pay the price.