Twelve months ago I felt compelled to write a blog about the frustrations I was feeling regarding GCSE exams and children in special and alternative provision. For those who read my ‘annual blog’ I was attempting to express my feeling of despair about how the children at my school are put through worrying levels of pressure to sit exams. Well, it’s happening again!

Today is Maths GCSE day. Seven of my pupils have refused to even leave their houses. They can’t cope! They have completed the two-year course, been supported, mentored, guided and bribed. The staff at school has spent tireless hours planning, differentiating, delivering and disguising work. Algebra, equations, geometry and all the rest of the syllabus has been delivered through genuinely outstanding teaching and a commitment to every single pupil.

Those seven pupils will leave school with nothing because the system has not allowed them to be assessed over the entire course but relies too heavily on a terminal exam. How does the system reconcile that? For those pupils, this morning, the stress and anxiety was too much to bear. They don’t think about the future, college, apprenticeships, jobs or livelihoods. They think about the pressure they feel right now and they resort to their default setting of refusal. Tomorrow, or even now, they may regret this, but tomorrow is too late. The damage is done!

What about doing some maths yourself? If seven pupils from a cohort of forty don’t even sit the exam, how does that impact on the overall percentage pass rate?

So, what’s wrong with on-going assessment? Why can’t we just have a system that allows vulnerable children with additional needs to build portfolios, take small modular exams, complete teacher assessments?

Today we used twenty six exam rooms and forty one staff to administer this one maths exam. We also had two staff out in cars knocking on doors and supporting parents. I even gave up my office for an anxious and phobic boy who couldn’t be anywhere else.

On a lighter note I’d like to share with you an anecdote from the science exam last week:

Exam question: The theory of evolution was developed by Charles ………… (1 mark)

Pupil sits with his head in his hands chuntering “I know this one, I know this one, it’s Charles Dickens”

He then looks around the room doubting himself and thinking long and hard about his science lessons. “No it’s not, no it’s not” he convinces himself. Now it was the light bulb moment, the one we as teachers have come to love and cherish. He’d worked it out!

“It’s not Charles Dickens” he mumbled to himself, “it’s Charles Dickenson”

With a smile on his face he wrote this up and moved on to the next question!

Dave Whitaker, Head Teacher, Springwell Special School