More foul than fair: exams fury bubbles over

7th September 2012 at 01:00

Geoff Barton is quite right to describe our assessment system as "sordid" and lacking in leadership ("Our pupils have been sacrificed to an ideology", 31 August). At GCSE and A level we seem to have no idea what merits a top grade or even a pass. And so fixated have we become with grades that we are in danger of losing sight of what really matters: the quality of the learning these assessment points are intended to measure.

Furthermore, a culture of retakes and teaching to the test has debased A levels - once the gold standard - and rendered them much closer to bronze. We have created an educational system that knows the price of every mark (and re-mark) but does not value education in the most profound sense.

But there is an alternative that does not require expensive inquiries and endless reviews. The International Baccalaureate's (IB) middle years and diploma programmes are tried-and- tested alternatives to GCSEs and A levels respectively.

The diploma has enjoyed more than 40 years of consistent and rapid growth, and with zero grade inflation. The top grade - a 7 - is difficult to achieve in each of the six subjects that IB students must take in the sixth form. Universities value it because it is academically rigorous (like the old A level, it has exams only at the end of sixth form). It has managed to do this because it is free of government interference. It really is the gold standard and everyone who cares about the standards of education in this country should urge Michael Gove to make the IB available to every school in the country.

David James, Director of IB, Wellington College, Berkshire.

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