It's the exam boards, stupid

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

As slogans go, "It's the exam boards, stupid" ranks up there in the imbecility stakes with the AUT's pay-campaign from the 1980s: Rectify the Anomaly which unsurprisingly failed to attract the government's attention, or public sympathy.  But this does seem to be the preferred stance of a number of people I come across when discussing climate change education in schools.  "If only!", they say, "If only we could persuade the examination  boards to put climate change into exams, then teachers would have to teach about the issues in schools."  "Because, you see," they go on in that ever-so-patient condescending fashion reserved for explanations to the dim-witted, the elderly and foreigners, "Teachers all teach to the test".

Well, they don't.  Primary teachers certainly don't and the better secondary ones neither.  But that's not my main objection to this slander and counsel of despair.  I'm not against exam boards setting questions to do with climate change and ecological problems.  I just don't see it as the driver of change in secondary school teaching.

This raises the question that no one seems to want to discuss: examine what, exactly?  What are the exam boards to ask questions about?  Are these going to be about factual matters related to the here and now?  For example, about the increase in atmospheric CO2 since the industrial revolution?  About how the greenhouse effect works?  About greenhouse gases and their different potencies?   About different climatic zones?  About the differences between weather and climate?  About what the Paris Agreement says?  And so on and on.

These are easy questions to pose, and exam boards (in England anyway) already examine some of these in geography and the sciences [*].  It would also be possible, but much trickier in a pen and paper test, to examine likely issues such as how the IPCC's scenarios will play out as the economy adjusts to the demands of net-zero by 2050, but these stray into politics and values which is why you can see that examining facts is so attractive.  But knowledge of facts is not the prime determinants of action.

And anyway, none of this is what young people want schools to be dealing with.  They want likely futures to be discussed, and the roles that people will have in determining these.  Good luck examining that at 16 in anything but a superficial manner.


[*] The King's research report in 2019 about the state of environmental education in secondary schools in England was not all that impressed by what exam boards got up to.  The details are here.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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