At last Thursday’s meeting of secondary chairs of governors, several questions were raised about examinations in 2021. Concerns mirrored those that you will have seen reported in the media, most particularly about the uncertainties for teachers and students. Testing and examinations have a grip on our education system, particularly in secondary schools, that is not mirrored in other parts of the world. Almost all countries have some form of examination system as young people come to the end of their statutory schooling, but not the sort of intensive testing regime we have twice-at 16 and then again two years later at 18. Our current system is a legacy from when most young people left full-time education and moved directly into the labour market at 16. Covid-19 gives us the opportunity to think about whether each student needs to carry such a heavy testing load and whether a reduction in that load might give us more space to do other important things.

Education has the power to transform lives. It plays a key role in developing individuals so they thrive. But it also important in shaping the values of future generations and creating a fair, more inclusive and sustainable society. The Black Lives Matter movement underlines just how much that is needed. We all want our young people to leave school knowledgeable confident learners but they need also to be equipped and empowered to become what a recent United Nations report called ‘champions of peace and justice’. This means not just greater knowledge and understanding but a greater propensity for action too. Could we do more in schools to harness children’s energy and creativity so they are better prepared to become agents of this generational change? Without adding to an already crowded school timetable, how can we prepare them better to manage a complex and uncertain future and to build a better one too? It is clear that the pandemic has magnified the many inequities in our current system. Could the current crisis spur us on to reimagine our education system and help create the changes needed locally and nationally to support a more just and inclusive society?

The nature and scale of this pandemic means its impact is likely to profound. No one can be sure what the changes will be or how permanent, as the future is so uncertain. At the moment, education leaders in Camden are focused hard on managing the immediate and planning heroically for a return to at least a form of pre-pandemic normality. As part of the discussions about our new education strategy, we need to create opportunities to help us think more radically about the sort of education system we want locally and why. We need to have that conversation with all invested in building a better future, most particularly your children, families and communities, your staff but others too with an interest in education in Camden, so we can create a strong strategy that works for everyone.

Christine Gilbert

On behalf of the Camden Learning Board

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