Exam system is 'outdated and archaic', says Eton headmaster Tony Little

 

An unlikely opponent of exam league tables emerged today, with the head of Britain’s top public school mounting an attack on the Government’s approach to measuring the success of education.

The exam system is “unimaginative” and “archaic.” And simply measuring exam results “can be misleading” according to Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton, which counts Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Harry among its alumni.

He claims the education system is failing to prepare schoolchildren for adulthood, being based on an approach to exams “little changed from Victorian times, which obliges students to sit alone at their desks in preparation for a world in which, for much of the time, they will need to work collaboratively.”

The comments come as millions of students wait for their GCSE or A-level exam results this month [Aug]. It is unlikely to be a particularly stressful time for Mr Little’s pupils, the vast majority of whom are expected to get A or A* grades.

Writing in the Radio Times today, Mr Little, who is due to retire next year, says: “A sharp focus on performance is a good thing, but there is a great deal more to an effective and good education than jostling for position in a league table.”

And he argues: “Most of us as parents want our children to become capable adults, able to look after themselves and their own families, but we want them to be good citizens, too.”

Mr Little quotes the 17th century poet John Milton, who cited being “skillful, just and magnanimous” as among the virtues of citizenship. “The skills we can, with ingenuity, find ways to measure and assess, but where would justice and magnanimity fit in an exam programme?”

And he concludes: “Let us stand up for robust academic rigour and applaud our young people for their achievements, but let us not confuse league table success with a good education.”

His view is supported by Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the NUT, who said that “Tony Little is right to warn of the dangers of reducing education to statistics”.

The Government’s “obsession with accountability and testing needs a fundamental rethink,” he added.

And Mr Little’s concerns are also shared by the exams regulator Ofqual. In a statement, an Ofqual spokesperson said: “We would echo Tony Little’s sentiments that there is much more to education than exams and exam results. And yes, there is too much emphasis on just what is likely to be tested, which can narrow learning.”

But they added: “exams and assessment do have a key role to play, and it is important that they provide valid and reliable results that people can trust as a proper record of the student’s knowledge, abilities and skills.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education responded robustly to Mr Little’s criticisms: “We make no apology for holding schools to account for the results their pupils achieve in national tests and public examinations. Parents deserve to know that their children are receiving the very best possible teaching. But all good schools know that there is no tension between academic success and an excellent all-round education.”

They added: “We know constant testing is unpopular and we are ending the exam treadmill by returning A-levels to linear exams at the end of two years. This will ensure students gain a deep understanding of their subjects and end the culture of constant assessment and resits. Our reforms will ensure we have an exam system which prepares young people to succeed in modern Britain.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: MIS Officer - Further Education Sector

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating throughout London and...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all