Children from ethic minority groups are more likely to be marked down by their teachers in tests and exams, Education Secretary Michael Gove will say today.
He will make the point in a speech to headteachers this afternoon designed to support his plans to move away from teacher assessment in exams to traditional end-of-course tests.
He will tell the Independent Academies Association conference in London that externally marked tests are “fairer”, adding: “The evidence shows that in teacher assessment of English achievement there is a tendency for ethnic minority children to be under-marked and students from non-minority backgrounds to be more generously marked.
“With external testing there is no opportunity for such bias - the soft bigotry of low expectations and tests show ethnic minority students performing better.
“So external tests are not only a way of levelling the playing field for children of all backgrounds, they are a solvent of prejudice.”
Mr Gove will also mount a robust defence of exam league tables in the wake of a report from exams regulator Ofqual last week showing they played a part in putting too much pressure on teachers to bump up their pupils’ marks.
He will praise their “clarifying honesty” - claiming they have rescued schools from being judged on “hearsay and prejudice”.
Before they were introduced, he will say, schools in disadvantaged areas “were written off as sink schools - but many of them were performing well, better than other schools with more privileged intakes which were coasting”.
Mr Gove will also claim that “easy exams are worse than no exams at all”.
Defending his plans to make both GCSEs and A-levels more rigorous, he will say “our self- belief grows as we clear challenges we once thought beyond us.
“If we know tests are rigorous and they require application to pass, then the experience of clearing a hurdle we once considered too high spurs us on to further endeavours and deeper learning”.
Passing exams, he will continue, can bring the “happiness” which “sustains future progress”. “There is no feeling of satisfaction as deep, or sustained, as knowing we have succeeded through hard work at a task which is the upper end, or just beyond, our normal or expected level of competence”.
Mr Gove’s comments come after a report from exams regulator Ofqual last week claimed the pressure teachers were under from targets and schools seeking a good league table showing had led to them marking their pupils’ English GCSE work “over-generously”. The Department for Education announced in the wake of report it was reviewing league table accountability measures which put too much pressure on securing C grade passes.
Mr Gove will insist: “Without tests and league tables we would have no effective means of helping poor students succeed .”
Meanwhile, Labour’s education spokesman Stephen Twigg last night called for action to tackle failing schools in northern towns and seaside resorts, saying an “arc of underachievement” was holding back some of the poorest children - particularly from white working class backgrounds - in these areas.