Friday, December 09, 2011

Fisking Allison Pearson on school examinations

Inspired by the newspaper's investigative coup this week, Allison Pearson has a column in today's Daily Telegraph discussing the failings of our school examination system in much the same terms that I did yesterday.

However, I have to take issue with this paragraph:
When I was my daughter’s age, I barely knew what an exam was. Your teacher might take an educated guess at what would come up on the paper (Henry VIII’s foreign policy last year, so probably domestic this time), you swotted up as hard as you were inclined, went into the hall with a leaky fountain pen and blotting paper, read the questions, picked the one you knew most about and wrote until your hot little hand got cramp. The only tactic we learnt was to ostentatiously walk to the front after 20 minutes and ask for more paper to psych the others out.
Because, as I revealed three years ago, I was in the same class as Allison Pearson (Allison Lobbett as she then was) until I was 16. And these are the facts:
  • Our History O level covered the period from 1760 to the Spanish Civil War, so there would have been little point preparing an essay on Henry VIII's policy, foreign or domestic.
  • By 1976 no one used a fountain pen: we all used biros. I can still recall the groove its barrel would wear in your finger in the course of a three-hour exam.
  • You did not walk to the front for more paper: you raised your hand and waited for it to be brought to you.
And, let me record here, I was not intimidated. In fact I sometimes asked for paper before Alison Lobbett did. (Jane Cummings was the one you really had to fear in the extra paper department.)

1 comment:

Chris Black said...

From my fading memories of the 70s, I can just recall using school-issued cartridge pens when I was in my first year at Sweyne School (a comprehensive) in 1970. But certainly by the time we did O levels we are all using ballpoints.

My first exam was "World Affairs since 1919 , and I can still remember the date - June 2nd 1975. Lots of cold rain in Essex, and allegedly snow at Edgbaston Cricket Ground!