Letters: Exam boards

Exam boards are doing enough damage already
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Examination boards already have the power to wreck the lives of students and threaten the continued success of secondary schools up and down the country.

To give them more power in deciding educational futures for students would be misguided, opening up a new catalogue of error-filled possibilities ("Exam board to penalise private school pupils", 27 September).

In the 2011 exams, the boards have been found wanting; this failure at the heart of the education system is scandalous. The boards wield unfettered influence; our experience suggests that they do not wield it well enough.

Nationally, there were a dozen errors acknowledged by the boards in exam papers this summer – it caused an outcry; ministers were vexed, and Ofqual, the body which monitors exam boards' performance, launched an inquiry.

What is less well publicised, and almost impossible to quantify, is the number of mistakes made in marking examination scripts – mistakes which might mean a university place lost, career hopes dashed, whole lives irrevocably changed.

So far the boards have changed the A2 level grade of five students, out of a year group of 74, at my school. One of those students is now eligible for her university place, but has already been rejected because of the wrongly ascribed grade. She has been given a place for 2012, which of course means that she will have to pay £9,000 each year rather than £3,000.

Some changes in marks are staggering: a module mark at A2 changed from 56 to 74, resulting in an uplift of two module grades.

And the re-marking process takes time and effort. My head of modern languages had to write a closely argued, strongly worded letter to an examination board officer to get them, even after a re-mark, to see that their application of their own criteria was incorrect in the case of an A-level student. Only his persistence, care and knowledge retrieved the student's proper grade, and her university place which depended on it.

We must draw the shortcomings of our examination system to the attention of the public and the politicians, for the sake of our students' futures.

Jonathan Taylor

Headmaster, Bootham School


St George's, University of London, strongly supports policies that permit equal access to education opportunities for people from all social backgrounds, and the AQA's commitment to this. As your article pointed out, we have developed at St George's an adjusted grade criteria scheme, along with a number of other initiatives to address this objective.

The adjusted grade criteria scheme is very different from the AQA's suggestion that university applicants should be awarded or deducted "points" on the basis of which school they went to; it is not relevant to use the scheme as a justification for such a radical change.

Dr Stringer is correct that the St George's adjusted criteria scheme enables the university to look at A-level grades of applicants from state schools and consider for selection those who achieve grades 60 per cent better than the average for their school. However, in contradistinction to what he implies, the university selection is made on an individual's application, not on the basis of the school, and all applicants must meet other entry requirements, which include a structured interview.

St George's aim is certainly not to "dumb down" standards as suggested by your editorial. It is to recognise those students who have performed exceptionally within their individual circumstances, using their school class peers as a benchmark.

The scheme, crucially, makes assessments on an individual applicant basis and does not in any way penalise applicants from independent schools. We are not proposing that the scheme be applied more widely but we do consider our method appropriate to encourage social mobility in a profession that needs to be representative of its patients. It will be essential for the AQA to conduct sector-wide research before promoting the wider application of similar schemes.

John Hammond

Associate Dean (Widening Participation)

Professor Peter Kopelman


St George's, University of London

Drones to hunt the Evil One

Your issue of 1 October had much to say about Anwar al-Awlaki and his recent death by US drone, but I searched in vain for just a few words condemning yet another cowardly assassination by the Obama mob. From Geronimo to present-day hate figures such as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, the US has always felt the need to keep its citizens in terror of a, usually dark-skinned, "monster".

In earlier times many troops went into battle to track down and slay the Evil One but now, with the development of the unmanned drone, it has all become so much easier – and cheaper! It is a cowardly form of warfare which uses technological superiority to assassinate, whilst keeping soldiers out of harm's way - just a "dude" somewhere safe and secure in the middle of America pressing a button, and then a "high five". The fact that around 50 civilians usually die for every name off the US/UK "hit list" does not seem to matter.

I believe these drones are selling like hot cakes at arms fairs and soon I imagine they will be the weapon of choice for many countries. If some foreign government decides that David Cameron should be eliminated and he is tracked to his constituency home, he and 50-odd members of the Cotswolds set and the local WI could all go up on flames in the blink of an eye.

Patricia Sheerin

London SW18

Mr Awlaki may or may not have been mad, bad and dangerous to know. What is not in doubt is that his killing was by any legal standard an act of murder, and murder by a particularly cowardly method.

And when we see the President of the United States calling a press conference for the second time in a matter of weeks to boast about having committed murder, it's hard not to wonder whether the words "moral compass" still have any meaning at all in his unhappy country.

If America has the right to murder at will anyone they just don't like the look of, does it not follow that other countries have the same right? Are international relations now to be governed solely by the predator drone and the poison-tipped umbrella?

Roger Jones

Andover, Hampshire

US will not prop Israel up for ever

The answer to Mary Dejevsky's headline question "Will Israel still exist in 2048?" (30 September) is quite straightforward: "No".

This has nothing to do with the Middle East, but with the US. Without the $3bn per year of military aid given to it, Israel would not be able to subjugate the Palestinians in the way that it now does.

Over the past few decades, America has built an infrastructure that is entirely dependent on cheap oil – I lived and worked there for 35 years and I've watched it happen. Now that China and India are growing fast and they want what we've had, the price of oil is sky-rocketing. As a result the American economy will nose-dive and at some point America will no longer be able to afford this support for Israel.

Then the Palestinians, doubtless with the help of other Arab countries, will take over Israel to form a single Palestinian state with Jews in a minority. Israel's much-vaunted nuclear weapons will do it no good when they are fighting an internal enemy.

It is interesting to speculate whether some Americans feel an affinity to Israel because Israel's development parallels that of early America. The settlers pushed the Indians back so that they could occupy their land. However, those settlers were "fortunate" in that about 95 per cent of the Indians were killed by smallpox imported from Europe, against which the Indians had no resistance.

Nowhere else in the world were European settlers able so completely to occupy a foreign land, and there is no possibility of Israel doing it in Palestine in the long run.

John Day

Port Solent, Hampshire

Mary Dejevsky's remark that Israel "created a thriving economy, with intensive agriculture and advanced industry, from almost nothing" might be taken to mean that before the Balfour Declaration Palestine was some sort of desert.

The Jordan Valley was for centuries known as the breadbasket of Palestine; Jaffa oranges were developed in the mid-19th century by Palestinian farmers and exported all over the world; thriving agricultural communities existed where citrus fruits, olives, almonds and herbs were cultivated. In addition, Palestinian arts and crafts, and commerce in textiles and ceramics, were highly developed in the land that was taken over by 20th-century immigrants and systematically smashed, built over and, like the word "Palestine", all but blotted out.

Elizabeth Morley


Don't forget foster care

You are right to say adoption is not appropriate for all children in care, but to assert that those who are unlikely to return to their birth families are left languishing in foster homes is wrong and fails to understand the role of foster care ("Adoption doesn't have to be as slow and painful as this", 30 September).

I have successfully fostered many young people on a long-term basis. By providing them with a stable and caring home, and the guidance and support they need, I have seen them turn their lives around and go on to flourish and succeed.

While the care system is not perfect and needs to be improved, let's not make sweeping judgments to the detriment of the 45,000 foster carers across the UK and the 59,000 children they look after every day.

Jim Bond

Colchester, Essex

In 1974, some 4,000 babies were adopted, but by last year this had been reduced to a deplorable 60 – less than 2 per cent of British babies being held in care. While some will ultimately return to their biological families, the figure is nonetheless outrageous and a monument to the bloody-mindedness of a system not fit for purpose.

The longer it takes for an adoption to happen, the less likely it is that it will succeed, and the figures suggest an institutional bias against adoption among care professionals.

Their priority of maintaining existing "family" units at all costs and in spite of a clear and present danger to the child has been the cause of scandals in recent years.

The other reason for this breakdown is their hostility to inter-racial adoption, which leaves nine out of ten black children in care without the slightest hope of ever finding a home.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews, Fife

Election drama at Cambridge

"Local Sewage worker beats President Peron for Chancellorship", trumpeted Varsity, the Cambridge student newspaper, after the last contested Chancellorship election in November 1950.

An informal meeting of College Heads broke up in disorder after a minority proposed Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India. The majority, who were firmly convinced that the Raj should have continued for ever, quickly circulated a fly-sheet nominating Eisenhower's former deputy, Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder, and Mountbatten at once made it plain that he would not oppose an old wartime colleague.

The left, led by Bertrand Russell, then nearly reduced the majority to apoplexy by officially nominating Jawaharlal Nehru himself.

Mr Nehru quickly indicated he would not serve but could not legally withdraw and the ballot boxes were open for a short time.

Without a count Tedder was declared the winner, but you were technically wrong to say there had been no contest since the 19th century ("Race is on for the ultimate seat of learning", 1 October).

Derek J Cole

St Leonards on Sea, east Sussex

We? Not me, just them

The cover of your Arts & Books section (30 September), includes the line "How Tom Lubbock changed the way we view great art". Who are these "we"? They don't include me! I get fed up with journalists using "we" when they mean "I and some other people". I remember once reading "Why do we all love..." followed by the name of a pop star I had never heard of. Please stop this off-putting use of "we".

Peter Calviou

Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Mao was right about Confucius

Chairman Mao was right to condemn Confucius as a feudal thinker ("Confucius says: let's celebrate", 29 September). His views about women are appalling. He thought that women should be obedient first to father, then husband, then son. Their chief function was to bear sons; when not doing this they should be general household servants.

He was also against education for girls; women should be silent and ignorant. As his ideas gained ground, women's position worsened and they did not get back into education until communist times.

M W Wheeler

London SW13

Blair could be really upset

So Tony Blair is hurt by allegations that he is only in it for the money. Not half as hurt as those of us who regret the lying, complicity in torture and illegal regime change he was engaged in when we, the taxpayers, were paying his salary. If The Hague ever gets hold of him, people telling nasty fibs about him will be the least of his worries.

Christopher Anton


Plucky British Ford in Cuba

In Simon Calder's look at Cuba's changing automotive landscape (30 September), the line-up of cars photographed in 1958 in front of President Batista's palace are not all from Detroit. Amazingly, among the Yankee behemoths is a diminutive Ford Prefect, a British export built in Dagenham. If it's still running today that would really be a story.

Alan Bunting

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Perspectives on raising speed limits

A 'petrolhead' defends the right to take a shower

If you think Greece has got problems, take a look at the Luddite and envious letters you chose to print about raising the speed limit (1 October). True, as a 64-year-old driver I find it entertaining to be classed as a "boy racer", a "petrolhead", and even advised to forgo my morning shower so that I can leave home earlier and drive more slowly.

The cars I drive now are safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient than those I drove 40 years ago. Even the motorways, for all their inadequacies, are better. Your readers are free to sit in the public library, bilious and smelly. Some of us have work to do.

Trevor Pateman


Hurry along to the next jam

The Government's plan to increase the speed limit to 80mph is beyond credibility. One would have thought that the contrary arguments regarding decreased safety, increased carbon outputs and the inefficient use of a precious resource are so obvious and powerful that they barely need making.

But even the rationale for this proposal is weak. It is suggested that reduced journey times will produce economic benefits. I seriously doubt it. Most daytime journey times are governed by the frequency and duration of the hold-ups encountered along the way. Thus, increasing the speed limit will merely result in drivers arriving at the next hold-up a little sooner.

This proposal sends out completely the wrong signal on so many fronts. Of course thought should be given to revising the speed limit – downwards.

Keith O'Neill


Drive slowly, arrive sooner

There is research to show that traffic flows more smoothly and faster on motorways if vehicle speeds are very similar, something that could be achieved by having a limit of 55 or 60 mph. It is braking which causes vehicles to bunch and in this way traffic can even be brought to a standstill.

Significant reductions in fuel consumption are made with a reduction in speed. Higher speeds also make accidents more serious when they occur.

Yet the "greenest government ever" is proposing an increase in the speed limit! My contempt knows no limits. Jeremy Clarkson will soon join the Government.

Rupert Bullock

Shapwick, Somerset

Life in the middle lane

I applaud this most rational proposal to increase the upper speed limit to 80mph. Perhaps the Transport Secretary would also pass a regulation requiring those worrying drivers who populate the middle lane, overtaking imaginary cars, to use the empty left-hand lane.

Mike Spinks

Healed Green, Cheshire