It's time to revisit Tomlinson

25th August 2006 at 01:00
Congratulations to Brighton College and Bedales, the private schools that announced this week that they are capping the number of GCSEs their pupils take. Twelve A grades, 13? Today's newspapers are a reminder of the race to clock up ever more exam passes which has nothing to do with education and everything to do with schools' need to compete.

Other private schools are also wriggling free from a system where exams rule. Next year, scores will not feature in league tables at all because they have abandoned standard maths and English GCSEs in favour of international GCSEs which don't count in the annual performance rankings.

State schools, which are barred from international GCSEs, can only look on with envy as they grapple with the malign effects of too much testing and the tyranny of league tables.

The Bedales case is a persuasive one. Like other private schools, it is answerable to parents. If it fails to please them, it will go out of business. The implicit message to the Government is that parents are less interested in league tables than politicians think and that they want more out of schools than a fistful of GCSE grades.

Is anyone listening? Ministers seem to think that the answer to most educational ills is another test. Their response to employers' complaints that too many school leavers cannot spell or add up is to introduce another exam. So we are to get GCSEs in "functional" English and maths.

This week's detailed CBI report lamenting the standard of literacy and numeracy among its employees may have more substance than the recurring whine from employers that things are not what they used to be but the remedy does not lie in more GCSEs. Pupils will only grasp the skills they need for work if they are motivated. A different daily diet in the classroom leading to different qualifications is needed. Last year's Tomlinson proposals for the reform of secondary education would have been an important step towards that. Sadly, the Government chose to reject them.

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