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The BBC's Mike Baker
"This summer sees a huge national experiment"
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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Sixth form exam 'overload' warning
exam candidate
Students are struggling under the weight of new exams
The head teacher of one of Wales' largest state schools has said that the revised exam system for sixth formers is a "disaster" and should be suspended.

Speaking at the National Association of Head Teachers conference in Harrogate Gareth Matthewson, from Whitchurch High School in Cardiff, said the new Key Skills tests are a nightmare for both teachers and pupils.

Gareth Matthewson head of Whitchurch High School
Gareth Matthewson slams new exam system

Heads across the UK have painted a bleak picture of overworked, stressed pupils, unable to participate in extra-curricular activities because of the pressure of AS-levels, A-levels and Key Skills examinations.

Delegates at the NAHT conference were especially critical of the key skills exams, saying they were poorly implemented, pitched too high and were not sufficiently valued to warrant the extra volume of work.

Workload

The Key Skills programme, devised to abate employers' and universities' concerns that teenagers could not read and write properly or do basic arithmetic, is voluntary.

But the NAHT argues this has led to a situation where universities do not feel obliged to recognise them and students who take them are disadvantaged because of the added workload.

Mr Matthewson, described Key Skills as the straw which broke the camel's back, as students and teachers struggled to get to grips with the new AS-levels.


The universities clearly don't think they're important, so students are saying 'why should we do them?

Head teacher Whitchurch High School, Gareth Matthewson

The standard of the tests was a lot higher than anyone had envisaged, with only about 17% passing, he said.

"Large numbers of bright children, who've never failed an exam in their lives, have had a huge knock to their confidence.

"The universities clearly don't think they're important, so students are saying 'why should we do them?'

"The government has introduced a mess and should withdraw Key Skills," Mr Matthewson said.

But heads stressed that, in principle, they agreed with the notion of Key Skills testing, but want it to be incorporated within the courses sixth formers are sitting, rather than as a separate "bolt-on" exercise.

Enquiry needed

NAHT general secretary, David Hart, called on the incoming government to hold an enquiry into the the new post-16 education.

"We want this system to work, but the new government should look at whether it's time to move onto the next phase," Mr Hart said.

The NAHT wants to see the introduction of a post-14 curriculum, where pupils can develop academic or vocational skills and sit exams in their own time.

'Working well'

But a senior government spokesman said the new post-16 curriculum was working well.

Parents would be astonished that head teachers were suggesting the lower sixth should be turned into a gap year, he said.

Key Skills had been introduced because universities and employers were concerned about the ability of young people to communicate properly, he added.

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See also:

25 May 01 | Education
Tests changed after security breach
25 May 01 | Education
Test questions were on web
21 May 01 | Education
Review of test papers security
21 May 01 | Education
Students' worries over new exams
11 Apr 01 | Education
New exams 'stress out' sixth formers
25 May 01 | Education
So what are Key Skills?
01 Jun 00 | Unions 2000
Fear caused by testing pupils
24 May 01 | Education
Pupils tested to the limit
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