Letter: League tables distort exam results

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Sir: The debate on examination standards ("On your marks: record grades trigger the race for places", 15 August) is in danger of ignoring the social and political context. Since 1988 schools and colleges have been encouraged to operate as competing small businesses, where examination league tables provide the criteria for success. At the same time the examination boards have suffered from increasingly centralised direction in terms of syllabus content and examination structure.

Taken together, these factors have distorted what was previously a relatively constructive competition to improve the quality of exams through innovation and extended choice among boards. Since, as even the Government now admits, information from league tables is flawed and misleading, forcing schools to compete on this basis will lead inevitably to a distortion of the education process.

Rather than concentrate attention on the the difficult, and probably irresolvable, issue of whether or not standards have changed, we believe that the time is right for a full and independent inquiry into the many effects of league tables, which are now beginning to emerge.

Professor HARVEY GOLDSTEIN

Professor CELIA HOYLES

Professor RICHARD NOSS

Mathematical Sciences Department

Institute of Education

University of London

London WC1

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