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Stakes too high at S grade

SCOTLAND IS well out of step with other European countries by externally assessing pupils at Standard grade in seven or eight subjects, new research warns.

As candidates wait anxiously on their results next Friday, staff at the London School of Economics Centre for Educational Research reveal that children in Britain devote more time to taking exams than any other European country.

The majority of countries opt for internal assessment in a narrow range of subjects. Anne West, the centre's director, said: "Teacher assessment is much higher stakes in other countries. External assessment exams have a higher profile in Britain."

Dr West added: "Hardly any countries have such high-stake exams at the end of compulsory education. A lot of political energy is put into maximising the results at this level. So much time is taken up preparing for exams, often just reinforcing what has already been learnt, rather than gaining more knowledge."

The report compares courses, assessment and exam systems in non-vocational schools.

Dr West said: "In the United Kingdom and Ireland, a broad range of subjects is frequently taken. In the remaining countries, a small number of core subjects are examined - the language of instruction and mathematics, plus in some cases, another subject such as a modern language."

It is only in vocational schools in the Netherlands and similar institutions in Germany that high-stakes exams take place, usually because of their direct link to the labour market.

Dr West suggested the UK's focus on crucial exams at age 15 and 16 could be one reason why more young people failed to continue education and training. "The exams give young people something they can go into the labour market with. There is no incentive to stay on if they have got something of value," she said.

Secondary education across Europe: curricula and school examination systems, price pound;10, by Anne West, Ann Edge and Eleanor Stokes, London School of Economics and Political Science Centre for Educational Research, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE.

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