Dr James Tooley, of the Department of Educational Studies at Oxford, says the assessment system is not a useful indicator of intelligence, diligence or a student's later employability. He claims tests such as GCSE are "degrading to the aims of a liberal education".
Dr Tooley reopens the controversial debate over IQ and intelligence in an essay in this month's Journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs. "If it is intelligence which interests employers, then we do not need to sort students with GCSE, A-levels and so on. IQ tests are far more efficient," he says. "If it is punctuality and diligence, then letters of recommendation are more useful indicators than educational qualifications."
Dr Tooley's argument will prove controversial. It marks the first time that a British academic has dared to side publicly with the Bell Curve study on intelligence and class structure in American life. Its authors,Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray, contend that IQ is the best predictor of productivity at work. The Bell Curve was roundly condemned in the US for suggesting there was a genetic and ethnic base for intelligence.
The essay is significant because it suggests that right-wing thinkers, who spent the 1980s focused on the free market, are becoming increasingly interested in the US debate about genetics and intelligence. Dr Tooley suggests that IQ stabilises at the age of 10, which would mean childhood scores were as useful as those obtained after leaving school. "If correct, the repercussions to the way we review and resource schooling are far reaching," he says.GCSEs and A-levels "devour a considerable portion of the educational budget". With more emphasis on IQ tests, says Dr Tooley, resources devoted to examinations would be freed to benefit those with low IQs.
"If IQ tests assumed a greater importance resources could be transferred from assessment to other educational tasks. Primary schooling would remain as it is now with all children learning reading, writing, arithmetic, history, art and sciences. After the age of 10 children would take IQ tests." Opponents say that relying on IQ testing would stigmatise children with lower scores and condemn them from an early age to second rate education provision and job prospects.
Dr Tooley's defence is that "a child with a low score will need to be warned that certain employment is likely to be out of reach but then a school can offer a liberal education to whatever level the child can master. Today children with low IQs are offered the hope - which is a false assumption - that if they apply themselves more or if others suitably adapt the curriculum, they can do as well as anyone."
A spokesman for The Department for Education said there were no plans to replace existing exams with IQ tests.