Exam board involvement in school improvement 'would be madness'

20th August 2010 at 01:00
Academic warns of potential conflict of interest in using personalised pupil data for profit

The parent company of one England's three big exam boards has set up a "school improvement" business, prompting a leading academic to warn of a conflict of interest he claims could damage education.

Anders Hultin, Pearson UK's new managing director of school improvement, said the company wanted to help teachers to "use data in more personalised ways".

Detailed data about individual pupils' exam performances will be available to Pearson through the Edexcel exam board.

Pearson bought Edexcel and converted it into a for-profit operation in 2003. Recently it has been more closely integrated into its parent.

Ziggy Liaquat, Edexcel's managing director, told The TES in April that the board was developing its results analysis into a high-tech tool, giving teachers customised guidance based on the prior exam performance of their pupils.

Pearson's new business will help schools use data and offer them teacher training and "strategic planning and administration".

But Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University warned that any involvement of Edexcel in the scheme would amount to a "kind of madness".

He said: "It begs the question of what it is to improve schools. It looks as though the exam board is making a mistake in saying that exam success equates to good education rather than just being a measure of what is being learned.

"It is perfectly possible to push up exam scores in a variety of ways by using tactics such as giving advice on what will contribute to a mark.

"Lessons can become about point-scoring rather than physics or history. That will not improve education but will be to its detriment."

Pearson stresses that Edexcel is regulated by Ofqual, that its duties to maintain standards are kept separate from any products and that its results analysis service will remain free to all schools.

But Mr Liaquat has also defended the board's aim to do "everything we can to give teachers the tools they need to be successful".

Rod Bristow, Pearson UK president, said he wanted to help schools that would have more opportunity to "tailor their approach" under the Government's expected reforms.

The new business would build on Pearson's relationship with several academies.

Mr Hultin was previously chief executive of GEMS Education, which also hopes to benefit from Government reforms. The Swede, who co-founded the Kunskapsskolan free schools company in Sweden, said creating services that help schools structure teaching, avoid bureaucratic burdens, and use data in more personalised ways will ultimately be of benefit.

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