Britain's pupils deserve quality not quantity in their exams

Share

In our strange national obsession with examinations, quantity seems almost as important as quality. What we have in this country is a system of rote marking, in which exam papers are processed in industrial quantities by overstretched and underpaid staff. As inexorably as grades have inflated, standards of marking have slipped.

In our strange national obsession with examinations, quantity seems almost as important as quality. What we have in this country is a system of rote marking, in which exam papers are processed in industrial quantities by overstretched and underpaid staff. As inexorably as grades have inflated, standards of marking have slipped.

This is the true significance of the news that some private schools are pulling out of the independent school league tables. Ostensibly, this is an attack on the idea of league tables – which certainly have problems, in both the state and private sectors. Not least of which is to add to the obsession with exam results. But the idea of giving parents more information cannot, and should not, be uninvented.

What is more important is that elite schools, including Eton, are losing confidence in the integrity of public exam marking. This demands a radical overhaul, not just of the exam boards (which have an incentive to make their papers easier to attract more customers), but of the whole exam system. The suggestion that an "A grade with distinction" should be added at A-level is beside the point, and the private schools are right to reject that too. The A* grade has not solved the problems of GCSEs, and a similar tinkering would not help at A-level. The fundamental problem is that we have too many public exams and pupils are under ever-greater pressure to take too many at once.

If Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education, were really bold, she would scrap GCSEs, let schools assess who would benefit from post-16 academic studies, and build on the certificate of achievement, recording basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Then she would try to reverse grade inflation at A-level by reconstituting the exam boards so that they do not have a financial interest in lower standards. And she would encourage schools to use the Continental five-subject baccalaureate as an alternative to A-levels.

Not only would that be a more educationally sound system, if she cut the voting age to 14, she would also win the grateful votes of the school population and keep Labour in office forever.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace