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30 years ago

At a time of ferment as major reports were awaited from the Munn and Dunning committees on the curriculum and assessment, Colin MacLean, editor of The TES Scotland, wrote an open letter to Joe Dunning (July 9, 1976): I do have the strongest suspicions about some current trends towards assessment, whereby schools will prepare profiles made up of countless gradings by a dozen or score of staff, profiles for which some reliability will be claimed on the grounds that so many people cannot all be wrong.

These forms, some looking like crazy escalations of objective test papers, have been developed at a time when there has been unprecedented and much lamented instability and mobility of staffing, so as yet they cannot conceivably be more than random acts of faith.

If we are not careful these magic mosaics will become the icons of tomorrow's education, reverenced almost because of their complex incomprehensibility. They may even become not the icons but something very much worse, the branding irons for the humbler creation for whom "real examinations" are not suited.

If this happens, then the unacceptable face of educational professionalism will indeed be revealing itself as, instead of raising young people from the working classes (as has been thought by some to be the greatest good of education), the profile system will carefully consign them to the client classes. Fancy bringing a community together into a comprehensive school just to divide them thus, to commit the ultimate social blasphemy.

Tests of one kind or another are, I believe, among the many symptoms apparent today of a sickness of illogical excess: if administration, discipline, compulsion, education itself are not working, then people seem to argue that we should have still more of them - likewise with examinations, and with marks.

Please let us in every case consider at least the possibility that we ought to have less, not more. So often we get more of the same, but just a little different.

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