‘Is memorisation now an old-fashioned hobby?’

The Week in Education: Irena Barker takes a look at some of the week’s news stories that caught her eye

memorisation, poetry exams

Should exams be a test of memory or measure a student’s ability to apply information to problems and arguments?

As technology appears to be making memorisation something of an old-fashioned pastime, it’s a debate that divides educators.

While it’s fun to memorise Coleridge so you can show off at drunken dinner parties, one wonders if classroom time shouldn’t be given over to more sophisticated forms of learning.

This was the view of ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton this week as he welcomed a move by Ofqual to allow the use of so-called “cheat sheets” of formulae and equations in GCSE maths, physics and combined science exams in summer 2024. Indeed, they should stay for the long-term, he said.

Allowed in 2022 and 2023 to counteract missed learning during the pandemic, schools minister Nick Gibb had previously suggested they would be ditched this academic year as part of a complete “return to normal”.

Interestingly, Gibb announced this week he would be stepping down from his role in an occasionally illiterate resignation letter (education writer Adi Bloom described the grammar of one paragraph as “egregious”).

Gibb is being replaced by former education secretary Damian Hinds (remember him?) who has just completed a short stint as prisons minister…one wonders how he will apply the prior learning to his new context and whether we want him to.

In other news this week, The Telegraph reported research suggesting that graduates with some vocational degrees are earning higher salaries than peers from Russell Group universities.

Degrees such as games art, virtual production and e-sports can lead to better-paid jobs within five years of graduating than courses such as law and English literature, it found.

It’s reassuring for anyone without stellar A-level results, although one suspects those Russell Group grads catch up and surpass their peers from former polytechnics, once they’ve completed their post-degree gap years and vocational training.

In other university news, an expert from The Good Schools Guide has described switching sectors from private to state in the sixth form – in order to stand a higher chance of an Oxbridge place – as a “foolhardy gamble”.

It may well be, given that universities all know where candidates took their GCSEs.

Parents could save some cash though, of course.