Assessment system put to the test

15th June 2007 at 01:00
Our education system's obsession with testing has a long tradition. The grammar school I attended in the 1940s inflicted fortnightly tests and reports on pupils, and the stultifying classroom experience that resulted from this practice made a deep impression on me.

I followed a career in teaching and in my mid-thirties became head of a grammar school. One of my first actions was to abolish internal exams for all pupils until they were 15. Some years later I opened one of the country's first sixth-form colleges and put my arid teenage experience to further good use: exam courses were relegated to "minority studies", most of the students' time being taken up with private study, games, music, drama and other non-exam activities provocatively called "main studies".

Parents and the public were understandably up in arms at this irresponsible behaviour - that is, until publication of the first A-level results, which inexplicably were a good deal better than had been achieved under the traditional cramming system. The college consistently disproved the theory that the more time teachers spend in grooming their students for exams, the better their results.

Eric Macfarlane (author of 'The Making of a Maverick: a book for all who survived the English education system') Basingstoke, Hampshire

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