Orals may be dropped from language GCSEs. Good.

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.

  1. past tense as there are no exams in my degree – ra! []