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Politicians must stop the "never-ending tweaking" of exams, warns private school chief

The leader of Britain’s top independent girls' schools has called for a halt to the “never ending tweaking” of the education system, adding social change cannot be “engineered through exams”. 

In a thinly veiled attack of the reforms introduced by education secretary Michael Gove, Hilary French (pictured), president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), criticised the coalition's focus on exams at the expense of “soft skills”.

In a speech at the annual conference of the GSA today, Ms French said that independent schools had been “pushed and pulled” by successive governments eager to “tinker, tweak and mess” with the national curriculum and exams, adding this government was continuing to make the same mistakes of the past.

“It strikes me that what we’re doing with education today is simply taking another turn around the block with yet another series of tweaks that will result in yet another imperfect examination system,” she said. 

“I say this because there is no such thing as the perfect examination system, and the sooner we all realise this, the better.

"Social change cannot be engineered and driven through an examination system. The future is going to demand much more than a different kind of GCSE. It’s time to put this never ending tweaking aside and be radical.” 

Her comments follow those of Tim Hands, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents schools including Eton College and Harrow, who has warned of the dangers of allowing schools to be run by politicians and voiced his concerns about planned changes to A-levels. 

Speaking from Newcastle, Ms French said there was too great an emphasis on A level results and university degrees as indicators of success. Increasingly, “soft skills” were more important to young people than exam results, she added.

“I am not saying that studying the traditional academic subjects is not important. It is. What I am saying is that the ability to filter ideas and knowledge and to practise what we misguidedly call the ‘soft skills’ are fast becoming bigger educational must haves than a string of top examination results.

“I’m beginning to think that soft skills is a complete misnomer. What exactly is soft about being able to demonstrate resilience, leadership, integrity, confidence, independent thinking and compassion?

"What is soft about having the skill to communicate, to keep actively learning and adapting to the world around you?” 

The GSA chief also called on independent schools and their parents not to be “sniffy” about alternative routes into employment, such as apprenticeships.

“I’d like to challenge independent school heads to embrace these alternative avenues. Parents too. There is huge potential in employer training courses and the new types of apprenticeships which are emerging. We must not be sniffy about them,” she said.

“Yes, at the moment we may associate apprenticeships with lower level vocational training, but this need not and should not be the case.

"After all, what are medicine and teaching if not vocations with their own practical apprenticeship?”

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