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Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: The GCSE is misaligned with our understanding of adolescent brain development

Welcome to the first episode of Season 3 of the Rethinking Education podcast!

This week we're speaking with Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore. Sarah-Jayne is Professor of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, and co-director of the Wellcome Trust PhD Programme in Neuroscience at University College London. Her group’s research focuses on the development of social cognition and decision making in the human adolescent brain, and adolescent mental health.

Sarah-Jayne has been awarded a number of prizes over the last 20 years or so, including the British Psychological Society (BPS) Doctoral Award, the BPS Spearman Medal for outstanding early career research, and the Royal Society's Rosalind Franklin Award. She was also the winner of the 2018 Royal Society Prize for Science Books for her brilliant book Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain - which really is a must-read if you haven’t done so already.

I’ve wanted to speak with Sarah-Jayne for a really long time - not just about her brilliant work on the teenage brain, but also because of her work with Rethinking Assessment, and a fascinating blog she wrote recently about how GCSEs are misaligned with what we know about how teenage brains develop. If you want o see a video of the last part of the conversation, you can find it on the conference page.

Adolescence is a unique stage of development when our bodies, hormones, and social environment are rapidly changing, the brain is developing and cognitive capacities become more sophisticated. This is the period of life during which young people are given more autonomy and responsibility to explore their environments, forge peer relationships and develop their self-identity. At the same time, young people in the UK are expected to sit multiple high stakes exams in the form of GCSEs or equivalent. There is mounting evidence of reduced well-being and increased anxiety and depression among those in their mid-teens, with exam stress and fear of failure being commonly cited anxieties. Given this evidence, Sarah-Jayne argues that now is the time to reconsider the utility of GCSEs at age 16.


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