Research conducted by Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Group at the University of Cambridge concludes that:
- Adolescence is a sensitive time of brain development. Between the ages of 15 and 16, when one set of key exams take place, there is a vast amount of variation in brain development for difference individuals.
- Mental health problems have become increasingly prevalent amongst young people in the UK and the pandemic has aggravated this trend.
- The peak age of onset mental health conditions occurs in mid adolescence coinciding with cliff edge exams.
- Young people cite exam stress and fear of academic failure as their most prominent worry (in multiple large surveys).
Alongside discussion of this new developmental research, Kate Green MP presented Labour’s principles for an assessment system based on high standards with fairness at its heart.
The Edge Foundation is a founding member and supporter of the Rethinking Assessment movement, which aims to provide a strong evidence base for diversifying how we measure progress to help all young people’s talents shine. Key members of the movement joined the panel discussion to discuss assessment, where it is failing and what needs to happen to give young people the skills they need to thrive. Contributions and key points included:
Sarah Fletcher, High Mistress, St Paul’s Girls’ School
“There is a growing movement of teachers, employers and parents calling for an informed debate around our vision for education. So we need to start asking ourselves the big questions. What do we want education to look like? What are we trying to achieve? What is important to our young people?”
Sarah’s school is an independent school which is developing its own cutting-edge qualifications and curriculum to truly prepare young people for the future. They are keen to share their approaches with schools across the state sector.
Alice Barnard, CEO, Edge Foundation,
“For too long, the argument has been preoccupied with a false dichotomy, characterised as one of polar opposites – vocational versus academic; knowledge versus skills; traditionalists versus progressives. But it isn’t black and white – we need to embrace the colours and opportunities that lie in between to give young people the breadth and depth of opportunity that they deserve.”
Through its Edge Future Learning programme, the Edge Foundation is helping schools and colleges around the country to use cutting-edge pedagogy like project based learning to support young people to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes they will need in later life.
Meeta Vouk, Director Product Management, AI for IBM Z,
“The future of work is here now, bringing with it a radical shift in the mind sets and skill sets that are required. Current assessments only test a small minority of skills, but to succeed in the future of work, we need to support our young people to develop interpersonal skills, team working skills, and confident personalities.”
Edge publishes regular Skills Shortages Bulletins that bring together the latest evidence on the changing labour market. They show that more and more employers agree with Meeta about the importance of wide ranging skills like team working, problem solving and creativity.
Talking about exams in the short term, Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, and Shadow Minister for Education urged Gavin Williamson to set out a clear plan for assessment for 2022. She argued that:
“Assessments do not just reflect our education system and the learning it contains, they shape it, with a system of incentives that impact learners and institutions alike. But they must also be driven by what we want education to achieve for young people.”
She went on to say:
“We remain an outlier in putting students through a huge system of multiple terminal exams at GCSE level, a reflection of an assessment system designed for a now outdated school leaving age, just as we remain an outlier in setting pupils on a relatively narrow path at the age of sixteen, that sees many young people studying only three subjects.”
Through the Rethinking Assessment movement, we are building the case for change, building a broad coalition, looking around the world at what works and might be useful to us, building a set of principals around what assessment needs to be. We want to involve everyone with an interest in changing assessment, and we look forward to working with teachers, parents, students, employers, policy makers to open up a space for this complex debate.