I accept I only have the information as reported here to go on, but knowing how stupid Nick Gibb is both through what he has said previously and the curriculum realities over which he presides, I am not surprised at the truly obnoxious – and upsetting – observations he has made regarding student mental health issues.
The call to increasing the regularity of taking exams as one method for reducing student stress and anxiety is too banal to take seriously, but we have to, unfortunately.
What is extraordinary is this following reported comment: “Exam pressure has always been part of being at school. Nothing we’ve done has made it worse.” There are so many things wrong with this and it is difficult to know where to start in unpicking its blatant nonsense. Here are a few points:
Nick Gibb makes that all too familiar error of comparing his own school experiences with those of the whole nation’s students. Many politicians latch on to this ridiculous personal anchor. They did for the 30 years I was a teacher and have done ever since. We can presume Gibb had a proclivity to learning and some relative privilege in this with schools he attended and parental/social environment as support.
He is quoted as saying he thrived on the ‘rigour’ of his best educational experiences, one reported example being his obtuse but celebratory comparison of Music being taught precisely like Chemistry in one of the schools he attended. It worked for him – allegedly – so it must work for everyone else. That he clearly extrapolates such ‘rigour’ as a means of preventing students from being anxious and suffering mental health problems is frighteningly lacking in empathy as well as being, quite simply, dumb.
It isn’t just the timings and number of examinations that cause students anxiety, and his idea of starting formal examination in year 7 as a conditioning against this is ludicrously myopic. And that is being polite. I have argued often on this blog that it is the type of examining that matters, not the amount– to broaden the notion – of assessments that can/need to be made. A simple example is the utter meaninglessness of Key Stage 2 English GPS which demands a demanding kind of learning [it isn’t learning, is it?] and pressure to be ‘correct’ where there are no finite answers – other than those required by the prescriptions of a mark scheme only a zealot like Gibb would see as a positive ‘rigour’ rather than, in this example, totally anathema to the realities of understanding how Writing [and thinking] works.
The pressures for students at GCSE in particular, in schools that over many years have themselves become the furnaces of industrial target-setting and, to expand the metaphor, the cauldrons of intense pressure to be melded to these, has been a ‘modern’ phenomena that Gibb cannot compare to his school days nor dismiss as surmountable by students taking more exams.
And the other 21st century pressures affecting students which I surely don’t need to delineate here add yet further incendiary realities to that.
I don’t want to get caught up in my own diatribe so will leave the analysis at that. What I mean is I am genuinely horrified [thought not surprised – an essential paradox with people like Gibb] that he has been so dismissive of student mental health issues and latched onto examining as a method of addressing.
My feelings on this must be shared by countless others with any humane, knowing thoughts. But I had to say something.
NB [8.2.18]: Even yesterday’s Daily Telegraph couldn’t bring itself to endorse Gibb’s ridiculous ideas and instead presented some of the critical backlash.