Martin Stephen: You can't have exam boards that need to make a profit

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The Independent Online

There has been a dumbing down – a problem that it would be simpler to address if it was universal. The trouble is that exams which used to favour the top-tier candidates are being made more relevant to the lower tier. One of the besetting evils is the commercialisation of the exam system and – to put it bluntly – this is one reason why the system doesn't work.

My evidence is anecdotal, but you can't have exam bodies that have to make money. They have to make a profit and they're not going to say: "By the way, our exams are much harder than anybody else's – you must try them."

There are advertisements from the exam boards which give the impression that one exam board may be easier than the other. There is also a great deal of money to be made out of supplying textbooks which can help pupils through the exams.

As a school, you are always going to go for the textbook that's written by the chief examiner. I have attended meetings of senior exam board representatives and there does seem to be more talk about market share than standards.

The answer is not to have just a single exam board because a monopoly would also be dangerous. What you need is to bring the exam boards under government regulation more formally.

You should also bring the universities and employers firmly back into the management structure of the exam boards so they can give independent advice rather than have advice from employees of the organisation itself. Also, you should run them on a non-profit basis, which would remove the element of commercialisation.

The writer is high master of St Paul's School in London

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