Poetry 17: I will not let an exam result decide my fate by Suli Breaks

This 5 minute ‘spoken word’ video was just sent to me by a teaching friend of mine who was searching for some performance poetry for one of her English language classes. I found it really powerful and moving and made me think first of all what is poetry? I also thought the theme was really interesting, an exploration of society’s attitude to young people and exams and whether our schools are drumming hope, creativity and other avenues of potential out of lots of our kids by making them jump almost exclusively through academic hoops in order for the school and the child to be “competitive”.


About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

3 thoughts on “Poetry 17: I will not let an exam result decide my fate by Suli Breaks

  1. Thanks for this, Barry. It lands close to home with me, as a teacher and, worse still, an examiner. I think it is poetry, not only because of its rhythm but because it gives voice and meaning to things that need to be articulated.

    There were a lot of false dichotomies in it, but I agree with what I take to be the central point – that the exam system does not address conditions sufficiently, and that there is an overwhelming pressure of conventionality exerted through the education system. The exam system is a crude replacement for the teacher assessment that operates, for example, in Germany, and that would allow more rounded and contextualised judgements to be made about students. But teacher assessment would also require the state to trust teachers, which runs against the distrustful bureaucratising culture of the UK education system.

    Whenever people have to take something with a mixture of strengths and weaknesses and represent it as absolutely justified, the result is hypocrisy and conflict, and the education system is part of that. I don’t see any way around having some form of assessment for students, but if that system was more flexible, and measured ability both across time and in context, it would serve everyone’s needs better. The poem can be seen partly as a protest against the narrow dominance of the left brain in educational assessment. Like the left brain, exams abstract from a complex context and absolutise their results. If the assessment fitted the person better it would alleviate many of these conflicts, and also be more worthy of support with less hypocrisy by parents and teachers.

  2. I like this weeks poem, I agree on the whole with what Suli Breaks says so well. In the effort to raise standards in education – a very worthwhile aim – some poor side effects are seen, for example the space for the imagination to have free reign appears to be lacking.
    I’m not a fan of Michael Gove and his many supporters, nor are the small circle of teachers I have met, including my younger daughter. Teachers are having a rough time and most work very hard and to criticise them constantly does little to raise morale.

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