Natural justice

Year 7 students have a well-developed sense of fairness; and an even sharper sense of something being unfair. So it was with the history test this morning, as we tallied up the scores. Each question had a specific number of marks beside it. On the front of the question paper there was a forward slash and the number 42. Scores were to be recorded as out of 42, those inclined to calculate their percentage could do so for themselves.

One student stared intently at the paper, he seemed to be counting and recounting the marks he had gained. His greater concern was the marks that he had lost. He raised his hand. “Sir, how can the score be out of 42, when there are only 33 marks on the paper?”

Not having prepared the paper, I had not thought to check the sums. He was right. There were only 33 marks. His total was 28/33 not 28/42. He smiled at the correction, so did all the others in the class. One boy was delighted that his score of 22 represented 66% -it was the highest score he had achieved since he had started at the school.

Memories came back of days at primary school when there was an instinctive sense of fairness in the class. We might not have challenged the teacher about the number of marks in a test, but, then, the situation would not have arisen. Our teacher had a meticulous eye for detail and would have spotted the mathematical error immediately. Fairness extended to owning up to actions, particularly if someone else was in danger of being blamed for something you had done.

The passing years seemed to erode that feeling that things should be fair. By the end of school days there would have been an indifference to how many marks there might have been on a test paper, and the only rule regarding behaviour was not to get caught. Perhaps the current Year 7 students will be different, perhaps they will retain a natural sense of justice, an instinctive feeling for what is fair and what is not.

A senior colleague remarked that Year 7 students were more mature in some ways than their Year 11 counterparts. It’s as if that as we get older, something is lost. As if we need to recover the wisdom we possessed before the onset of adolescence and the times of silliness. Perhaps if we had retained a passion for fairness, it wouldn’t just be test scores that were challenged.

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