Cheeky colonial tells Britain what to do

The Observer is the Sunday edition of the Guardian, so I wrote this letter a week ago, and never expected it to see the light of day. Indeed, I had forgotten all about it, so when I opened the newspaper yesterday morning, I was gobsmacked to see it printed as the lead letter!

I expect there will be a lot of people reading this who will dismiss me outright as  naive and presumptuous – who is this person from Canada telling us what to do? What does she know about us?  I’m hoping it’ll get some reaction, but  I’ll have to wait till next Sunday’s Observer to see.


I was inspired to write it after reading a tweet from the Department for Education wishing high school students “luck” on the GCSE exams that were starting last week. There has been a whole series of articles recently about how stressful these exams are for the 16 year old children who are presently sitting up to 25 1 1/2 hour exams each over a period of a month and a half – how teachers have to manage kids’ anxiety, kids throwing up, threatening suicide (and some succeeding). It’s all made more stressful recently because coursework has been eliminated, and students’ entire grade, and therefore their future prospects, depends on these exams – and they are told that repeatedly. So it seemed rather disingenuous for the people who manufactured this stress to wish the students “luck”.

Here’s the first paragraph that was chopped (rightly so, the letter was way too long):

“What is going on with your education system? Today the DfE is tweeting “good luck” to students writing their GCSEs. Really? What kind of luck is going to help them at this point? Luck that the questions will somehow match what they have revised? Luck that they don’t fall ill in the middle of an exam? If it is that kind of luck that is needed to do well on these exams that determine the course of their lives, then your system has failed them. But I suspect the kind of luck they need has already been doled out at birth – class, socio-economic level, and parents’ education.”

The rest of the letter just seemed to follow.

May 28 2018

And I did get some reaction!  in yesterday’s Observer, this letter: Happy kids, whatever next? from John Filby of Derbyshire.


Can’t have too much happiness! But don’t worry, 30 years of exams, targets, stress, stress, stress – that’s cured it. Thanks John.

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Molly Hurd’s perspectives on education have been developed out of her wide variety of teaching experiences in northern Quebec, rural Nova Scotia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Britain. She was also a teacher and head teacher at Halifax Independent School for twenty years. She believes passionately that keeping children’s natural love of learning alive throughout their school years is one of the very best things a school can do for its students. She is the author of “Best School in the World: How students, teachers and parents have created a model that can transform Canada’s public schools” published by Formac Publishing in 2017.

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