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Should we remind students that failure in their GCSEs is not the end of the world?

Discussion in 'Education news' started by TES_Rosaline, Jun 11, 2018.

  1. TES_Rosaline

    TES_Rosaline Administrator Staff Member

    ‘Students need failure. It is the oxygen of learning. They need challenge, but they also need upset – and they need it in a safe, controlled environment.

    Of course, some would say that a safe, controlled environment is exactly what schools at GCSE time are not. But is that the fault of the new GCSEs? Perhaps the distorting effect of meaningless performance tables might have some role to play. Maybe it is the lack of adequate technical education as an alternative to academic routes, forcing demotivated kids into subjects they don’t care about. Or it could even be the marketisation of a public good that turns institutions that should be collaborating into competitors, and children into units of funding to be fought over.

    Who knows? But if you’re dealing with stressed GCSE students, how about we give them a simple message?

    It’s not the end of the world if you fail.

    We never say this, but GCSEs don't matter nearly as much as we make out.’
    Sammy Wright is director of sixth form at Southmoor Academy, Sunderland

    What do you think? Is this really the right message we should be giving to students? Do you think we need to give stressed out students a more positive message about failure? How do you deal with stressed out students? Is more technical education the answer to offering more choice to students especially those who are not academically minded? Are demotivated students being forced into subjects they don’t like or care about?

  2. border_walker

    border_walker Established commenter

    For some, a few, students it would be better if they could leave at 14, experience the world of work, and then hopefully get some motivation of training and education.
    tonymars and agathamorse like this.
  3. PeterQuint

    PeterQuint Lead commenter

    We should remind them.

    But not until afterwards.
    JohnJCazorla likes this.
  4. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    "If you don't get good grades in your GCSEs there will be other paths through life. They may be harder or less well paid, but not necessarily. At some point you will have to work hard to make the most of the opportunities avaialble to you"
  5. install

    install Star commenter

    Maybe - we might remind Ofsted :cool:
    agathamorse and hammie like this.
  6. hammie

    hammie Lead commenter

    totally agree!
    or at 16 or at 18 the current never ending treadmill of being kept as a young student with out even a part time job to get some other skills is doing them no favors
    install likes this.
  7. englishtt06

    englishtt06 Occasional commenter

    There's a few things going on here that need teasing out:

    1. Getting students used to failing is a good thing - for ALL students. There is a lot of good research about this; however -
    2. Probably not in the GCSEs themselves
    3. There is more to life than GCSEs and it really isn't the end of the world; but -
    4. There is much more emphasis on qualifications today than there ever has been before - you've got to be in it to win it. As the UK is pretty much a service economy (i.e. no industry or manufacturing left) the workforce has to be reasonably educated - if you're the unfortunate student who has no hope of achieving then you can pretty much kiss a career in the UK goodbye. The principle of leaving school at 14 is, in theory, a good one (so a student can see what the real world is like and either return seeing the value of qualifications or stay and be a productive member of society); however, there are few opportunities for those types of students anymore hence the ruling for 16-18 year olds to be gainfully engaged in some way.
    5. As ably noted by other posters: students are forced into subjects they don't necessarily want to pursue in order to boost the school rather than the individual (EBAC being a good example). As noted in many threads about vocational pathways and the future of design tech; this provision is expensive (resource heavy) so often the first to go or to be legislated out (hello again EBAC!).
    6. This year has been the first where all the new GCSEs come to fruition and, as has been discussed in another thread, some students have 27 exams! Which is ridiculous. It feels like the longest exam season I've ever experienced. I feel for Y11. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out in the future; especially with all the discussion around young people and mental health.
  8. magic surf bus

    magic surf bus Star commenter

    It's only a personal anecdote but I still look back to failing my History 'A' Level as one of the key moments in my life. The only person I ever blamed for this was me.

    I ended up with only one 'A' level, neither use nor ornament. I left school, my unskilled summer job became my full-time job, and I decided to retake History independently the following year. I learned about the everyday workplace first hand, I worked with people who'd not done that well in school, people who didn't expect a great deal from life. I cleaned toilets and mopped floors. I had to bike to work and back in all weathers. Between shifts I went to the local library and I learned to study independently. I retook the 'A' Level the following June, got a D and missed the coveted University place by a grade. However I got onto a degree course at a Polytechnic, had no trouble with independent study, and at the end of year one I got an A in History. I decided to switch to two unfamiliar subjects for the final part of my degree, just for a change, and I never failed another exam. I got a degree in two subjects I'd never studied at school. When I went into teaching I was able to switch exam subjects at regular intervals because I could teach myself new skills and knowledge - more independent learning. Teaching myself about computers and moving into ICT in the early 1980s set me up for the rest of my career. I still do this after retiring from teaching and I love learning new things.

    Ironically, had I passed History first time and got onto the coveted Uni course, I probably would have become increasingly specialised in a very narrow subject area as the years went by. In this sense it was failure at 18 that enriched my life experience and broadened my mind. I also met my wife at Poly.

    So imagine the clash of principles I felt when the culture in high schools became increasingly about pupil success at any cost to the teacher, in terms of time, repetition, extra revision, drafting and re-drafting of coursework, and (of course) blame for student failure and punitive measures for the wrong exam statistics. At some point society will pay for all this cushioning - by all means support the disadvantaged, but some people just fail because they let themselves fail and they need to learn the hard way. I did.
  9. JohnJCazorla

    JohnJCazorla Star commenter

    Forget "What about the children?"
    "What about my career progression?" is the only question that far too many teachers, HoDs, SLT are having to ask.
  10. elder_cat

    elder_cat Established commenter

    Authority and accountability need to go hand in hand, for either to have any real meaning. As long as teachers and others are held to account for students' results, they don't really have the authority to allow those students to under-perform, and asking them to do so is akin to asking them to commit hara-kiri.

    If the think-tanks of people far clever than I are to be believed, then the notion of a "career" in the sense of a specific job or role that lasts many years, is becoming increasingly rare. We are being told that it's possible that the workforce of the future may have more than one job, and need to be flexible enough to change between different forms of employment, during the course of their lifetime. In either case, those students who fail to achieve a decent grasp of much of anything at school, will become pretty much unemployable in anything but the most basic of jobs.

    There are those who would say it's already happening. I have seen students who "failed to achieve", simply because (a) it was the easy option, and (b) the attendant consequences of failing weren't viewed as particularly onerous.

    There are children who are genuinely disadvantaged, and deserve all the support we can give them. Whether or not we have the time and resources to do that, is another question.

    So did I. The problem is the length of time it takes to:

    (a) Reach that enlightened state.
    (b) Accept that you are actually the cause of the problem.
    (c) Find the wherewithal to actually do what's required to remedy the situation.

    You reach a point beyond which, life choices and commitments prevent you from ever achieving as much as you could (or should) have done.
    phlogiston and JohnJCazorla like this.
  11. tonymars

    tonymars Occasional commenter

    Yes but is it worth a teacher's job? And it's not JUST a job, or bulot as the French would say, is it?
    install likes this.

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