More foul than fair: exams fury bubbles over

7th September 2012 at 01:00

The summer is indeed the silly season. This year, I have listened with dismay to discussion on some educational issues.

On the one hand, we see scores of legitimate overseas students cast adrift from their university courses. Identifying and sifting out the illegitimate, and ensuring that immigration regulations are enforced, is clearly important. But it is surely not beyond the wit of man to communicate and administer this firmly, but with due regard to both the futures of the legitimate and to the valuable reputation of UK education overseas.

On the other hand, we hear that GCSE grade boundaries were changed between this year's January and June entries. This without any notice to teachers, pupils or universities. Improving standards is important, but two arguments are being unhelpfully conflated here. Achievement in the current exam system has improved in the past 15 years, and in this system where people thought they knew where they were, it is simply "cruel" (to borrow the prime minister's word about prizes for all) to disadvantage the June 2012 cohort without warning.

At the same time, the system needs overhaul: we over-test and are obsessed with targets and external examinations, at the expense of educating and true standards. High-performing Pisa countries are characterised by far less testing, and by far more trust in and curricular freedom for teachers. The prime minister meanwhile refers to dumbing down, with the government's swift action promising that "it ends with us". Good politics? Not in my textbook. Education, and politics, surely deserve a far more considered, compassionate and intelligent response.

Trevor Rowell, Chairman, Council of British International Schools.

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