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Letter: 'Officers' and 'other ranks' in the education system

Sir: In John Rae's perceptive article on the failure of the examination system to produce an educated public ('The wrong debate about the wrong exams', 4 September) he unfortunately falls into one of his own traps. He is correct when he says it is not possible to compare international performances in different subjects, but then goes on to claim that it has been done in mathematics.

In fact, the international comparisons in mathematics are mostly based on the results of short multiple-choice test papers. These tests are used very little in this country, where mathematics teaching has been concentrating on mathematical problem-solving, a skill that cannot be satisfactorily assessed by such tests. It is yet one more example of how misleading test results and league tables can be.

Yours faithfully,


King's College London

London, SE1

4 September