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Closed 11/10/2017

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    Weʼve raised £0 to Carry out PhD Research into exam (test) anxiety. Children's mental wellbeing and their capacity to learn might be negatively affected.

    Stockton-on-Tees, United Kingdom
    Closed on Wednesday, 11th October 2017

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    Story

    Are our school tests fit for purpose?

    Tests are a way of life in education. I was a primary teacher for 15 years. In that time I saw children motivated by exams but also reduced to tears. The mental well-being of learners is at stake, with the potential to switch young people off to education permanently. I have recently completed a Masters Degree in Education Research at Newcastle University. I now wish to continue my research into test-anxiety and learning in greater depth in the hope that new knowledge and evidence might help improve the examination system.

    Employability skills refer to a need for creative and critical thinkers, staying flexible in constantly changing work environment. Yet the exams being used from SATs to A-Levels are arguably restrictive in what they can measure (often easy to assess knowledge recall/arbitrary facts). Despite this, exam qualifications can grant or deny access to many young, talented people, depending on whether they obtain to the necessary number of UCAS points from A-Levels. This requirement often pays no attention to degree, higher degree or work experience, thus shutting the door on many opportunities. Is it fair to judge a person on a high-stakes test they did when they were typically 17 or 18?

    This might not be an issue just for school leavers. NSPCC Childline is reporting a growing number of calls regarding exam stress for younger children. It is estimated over 10% of the school population suffers from heightened anxiety, partly brought on by tests and test preparation in schools. The parents and children's strike in 2016 illustrated growing concern with a petition of 60,000 signatures calling for primary tests to be boycotted. Both www.morethanascore.co.uk and www.reclaimingschools.org are campaigns that highlight the potential negative impact of high-stakes testing. If tests aren't measuring the right things to make them reliable, then how valid are the qualifications they lead to? What about the many talented people who struggle to access these tests within a specified, arbitrary time limit?

    My previous research was a small-scale case study of the relationship between test anxiety, creative and critical thinking. By working with a small group of children and staff in a primary school I was able to develop ideas for a potentially larger study working with between 100 and 500 GCSE students. A larger sample will provide more convincing evidence and detailed data that could present small, useful steps to improve exams, either through recognising their limitations, identifying key questions that pupils struggle with under stress and ways to negotiate this whilst reducing stress and improving mental well being.

    In my recent study, I made some fascinating links between reduced criticality in the initial phase, driven by anxiety and a rush to develop the first idea regardless of its quality/originality. These effects might suggest that high-stakes exams are not capable of measuring such capacities reliably and in fact undermine them, despite a clear need for them in 21st Century society, when many job roles for our current pupils have yet to be invented.

    The aims are ambitious and require a significant study that would be facilitated through PhD study. I aim to use the funds to pay for supervision/tuition fees and to help support myself and my family during the four years required. I will supplement this with teaching and academic support roles.

    Most people have a story or know someone who has had a bad exam experience. What isn't always acknowledged is how this might impact on that person in terms of self-esteem, career prospects and realising potential. Especially in terms of primary tests, where their principle aims are to measure school and teacher performance, is it fair to subject children to such pressure, limiting the curriculum to teach to a test and forcing formal conditions on impressionable young children? I argue that there is a place for exams, but they need to be reconsidered/realigned alongside other assessment tools.

    Through thorough and persuasive research, I believe this might be achieved.

    Please contact me for further details. I am currently working on a full PhD proposal regarding the methodology and full aims of the research briefly mentioned here.

    Regards

    Mark Willis

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      Page last updated on: 9/11/2017 9:21 AM

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        About the fundraiser
        Mark Willis

        Mark Willis

        Stockton-on-Tees, United Kingdom

        I was a primary teacher for 15 years and left in 2016 owing to the stress of the job and the way it has changed over the years. I have since studied for a Master's degree in Education Research at Newcastle, to affect educational change through innovative research.

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