The government is considering dropping oral tests from language GCSEs as they are ‘too stressful’, according to the BBC. The idea has been slammed by Ex-Ofsted-chief Chris Woodhead, but then Chris Woodhead’s disdain is traditionally a litmus test for good ideas, so that counts as a plus.
Is it a good idea? I don’t know enough about child psychology and the goals of the education system to make an informed decision, but I will say this: my German GCSE oral was by far the most terrifying experience in my school career. I was in the top set for German, with a great, non-scary teacher who prepared us for literally months before the exam, and I worked hard to get ready, yet I still remember the abject terror of waiting for that half-hour session. It’s on a par with my driving test as the most nervous I’ve been, and its memory affected my A-level exam: I wasn’t going to put myself through all that again, and I forced myself not to care. It was one of the few times I ever completely flunked an exam1.
For this reason I certainly don’t think the idea is ‘stupid’, as Chris Woodhead says. Other reactions on the page include ‘life is stressful’, which is pathetic: in my experience life is very rarely that stressful, and when it is we hate it. Or someone else claims the point of learning a language is to speak it, so what use is a GCSE without a spoken test? In reply I’d question whether such a stressful situation can possibly give an accurate account of a student’s ability – wouldn’t it be testing their ability to deal with (unrealistic) pressure as much as their language skills? Plus, they only want to scrap the exam itself – teachers would still assess oral language skills in other ways. The reactions overall suggest a fair amount of ‘I went through it, why shouldn’t they?’, which I despise.
The report suggests that teacher assessments could adequately replace the oral exam. Sounds reasonable to me. The more I think about it, the more I’m in favour.
- past tense as there are no exams in my degree – ra! [↩]