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17 July 2014

Matt Dronfield, Employer Engagement Manager for Talent Match London, writes about the importance of not relying purely on exams results as an indication of work readiness.

This week the Twittersphere has been in a frenzy over a letter sent to Year 6 pupils at Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire along with their Key Stage 2 test results. The letter tells students that the tests do not always assess what makes them “special and unique” and that the school is “proud” of them as they have demonstrated a “huge amount of commitment and tried your best during a tricky week”.

But it adds that “these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique”. The people who drew up the tests “do not know each of you… the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do”.

Personally, I think this is the most inspiring  letter that I have read all year!

At London Youth our network of 400 community youth organisations work with over 75,000 young Londoners each year beyond the school gates. And I have no doubt they would all agree that, in addition to studying hard at school, it is equally important to support young people to build their resilience and determination, confidence and agency, as well as their relationships and leadership. This letter from Assistant Head Teacher, Amy Birkett, not only recognises this but applauds pupils for going the extra mile to “try, every day, to be your very best”.

Unfortunately not everyone feels the same way, as you will have seen if watching  ITV’s breakfast show Good Morning Britain on Tuesday. In an interview with Shona Sibary, a journalist and mother of four, she tells presenter, Ben Sheppard: “if I received a letter like that in an envelope with my 11-year old’s exams results I would absolutely livid”.  She went on to say “the timing of it is irresponsible and also I would go as far as to say condescending to an 11-year old… the Head Mistress is obviously already expecting disappointing exam results”.

I make no apologies for completely disagreeing  with Shona, outside of London Youth I am the Vice Chair of Governors of Scargill Junior School, a small school in Havering, where this summer I was extremely proud of our Year 6 students who achieved the schools best ever Key Stage 2 test results, concluding  a year of hard work and commitment. But I am equally proud of all their other achievements: the work of the school council, raising money for local charities and the annual school play, just to name a few.

At London Youth I work on Talent Match London, our employability programme for young people aged 18-24 who have been out of work or education for 12 months or more. My role is to work with businesses to help create working environments where young people can build fulfilling careers for the long term.

This includes supporting employers to provide job opportunities and support young people into work. Whilst I’ve been doing this I’ve had more and more employers telling me that yes exams results are important but equally as important is what a candidate has done in addition to their studies – have they been committed to volunteering; are they a team player in a sports club; or do they have evidence of successfully completing work experience? Ultimately, what they are asking is: Are they ready for work and could they fit into our work culture?

I’m sure we can all look back on previous job interviews we’ve had and recall a quick change in topic from the qualifications you may hold to the type of person and extra-curricular experience you have under your belt.

Let’s not forget that our schools are not all about exam results, yes exam results can be a good measure of how a school is doing, but fundamentally they are there to ensure that young people leave the education system ready for the world of work as confident, happy and hopeful citizens of our society. All too often this can be forgotten.

So I’d like to take this moment to say congratulations to everyone who is receiving their results this summer – whether that’s your SATs, GCSEs, Alevels or beyond. But as the staff at Barrowford Primary School so brilliantly said: “remember there are many ways of being smart”.