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.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today