Academic prowess is not a reflection of ability to work

28th August 2009 at 01:00

Your editorial "Tory obsession with standards gets us nowhere" (August 21) poses the right questions, not only about GCSEs and A-levels but about exams generally. What are they for and do they do the job?

Michael Gove, shadow schools secretary, merely emphasises what is, regrettably, a common assumption embedded in our collective subconscious: that academic prowess is the greatest good and that those who don't have it (at least 50 per cent of the school population) are "no-hopers", the "duds".

The word school derives from the Greek word skole, meaning leisure. School was for the leisured classes and what they learnt was deliberately as far removed from the world of work as was possible. Yet, somehow, the assumption that the academically successful are superior has remained unchallenged and is thriving in the bosoms of Gove and the rest.

I suggest two reasons for this: that those who have erected the hurdles of tests were themselves successful academically; and that the more abstract the subject, the easier it is to test. Since, by their lights, the only measure of the education on which they have spent so much of our money is qualifications, they must measure what can easily be measured and ignore the rest.

Let us put exams back in the box where they belong: entry into a trade or profession for which a certain level of ability needs to be demonstrated in order to practise it safely. The only 'school' exam should be for a certificate of competence to enter and deal with the adult world, not of academic prowess.

John Harrison, Co-author 'Wot, No School?', Rye, East Sussex.

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