Exams bring pressure – pressure to teachers, support staff, parents and school leaders. However, the pressure we feel is nothing compared to that felt by the pupils and in my school the pressure on the Year 11 pupils is more than you could possibly imagine.
Children with ADHD, ASD, ODD, OCD and Tourette’s all go through the daily pressure of the exam season. They have been supported, trained, coached, counselled, mentored and bribed. They will feel angry, frustrated, challenged, hopeless, inadequate and useless.
They also feel cared for, supported, looked after, loved and immersed in a culture of unconditional positive regard.
So, what’s the problem? Nothing really. At the moment. We have created a situation where the longest exam is just about manageable at one and a half hours. We have 14 pupils sitting exams in 11 different rooms. We have invigilators, scribes and readers. That’s over 20 staff supporting 14 pupils! We also provide breakfast and pre-exam therapy and mentoring. Teachers – working outside the conditions of their contracts – all invigilate exams because any strangers employed to do the job would add additional stress to the pupils and they would not be able to cope. In order to manage the logistics of the exams, all the rest of the school, primary and secondary, have to collapse their timetables with all staff losing their PPA time. All this is done with no complaints, no unions, and no moaning – just total commitment to the pupils and their futures.
Springwell’s pupils will gain their GCSEs. They will celebrate in August like the thousands of others pupils around the country with pride and with huge smiles on their faces. They will be able to hold their heads up high and move on to positive destinations with increased self-esteem and a respect for their own achievement and potential. They will be proud of themselves and their peers and believe they have a genuine future. On that Thursday morning in August they will become ‘normal young people’. Not special school pupils hindered by prejudice and disability but real young adults with qualifications and worth. They have worked hard, against the odds to complete course-work, sit modular exams and build portfolios. Years of hard work will have culminated with the rigour and stress of the exam period and they will have come through it with pride.
So, what’s the problem? Nothing yet. It’s just what happens when they don’t have course-work, they don’t do modular exams and bulid portfolios and their whole school careers and life chances rest on them sitting a three-hour exam for each subject at the end of a three-year course?
That changes everything. That’s the problem. I am sure you will appreciate that I am worried!
Dave Whitaker is head of Springwell Community Special School