Sir: Is it not time to have a serious debate about the necessity of public examinations at the age of 16? I say this not to knock the exam boards nor to fight against assessment nor to deny the importance of school improvement. I say it because I think the public examination system at 16 actually works against improving education.
At Crown Hills we spend more on exam entries per pupil than on learning materials to teach them. In a school of about 200 16-year-old pupils we spend about pounds 7,000 for learning materials for the whole year and over pounds 23,000 on exam entries. To me, that seems obscene, especially when the results confirm our teacher assessments to a remarkable degree. At Crown Hills we are already doing an excellent job and have been commended by Ofsted, HMIs and various other audit bodies. We could do even better if the time and money spent on organising public exams was diverted to even better teaching and learning.
Second, I believe that we are the only country in the so-called developed world to operate in this way. Most other countries operate in-house assessments at 16, which are then externally checked and validated.
Third, public exams are notoriously poor at predicting future success. At 16 the coaching required to achieve success will always say as much about the teaching and resourcing of schools as about pupils' abilities. It says nothing about common sense. How many people do we all know who do well in exams, but cannot look after themselves?
Finally, I am very much in favour of dramatic improvement in our education standards and have dedicated my professional life to improving education. I am very tough on standards of behaviour and achievement and feel we should wage war on waste and incompetence, but how does the current public exam system help? I do not have a problem with more formal examinations from the age of 18 or work-related assessments, but at 16 it is over the top.
Crown Hills Community College