Our system needs an examination

30th May 2008 at 01:00
The annual cost of examinations to a school - estimated to be approximately pound;130,000 - is roughly equivalent to buying a decent terrace home in most areas of Wales
The annual cost of examinations to a school - estimated to be approximately pound;130,000 - is roughly equivalent to buying a decent terrace home in most areas of Wales. If the figures were not in black and white, it would be almost unbelievable that, since 2001, there has been an amazing 116 per cent hike in the basic unit cost of entering pupils for GCSEs, A-levels and other exams.

There appear to be many reasons for rising costs; but heads say the root cause is an exam system that no longer works.

If you divide pound;130,000 - the annual cost of exams to an average-sized Welsh secondary with a sixth form - it works out at pound;87 per pupil. What could that buy in textbooks? Surely there has to be a better way.

It has been acknowledged this month in a major report, hailing from a Westminster Parliamentary committee, that external testing gives only a small insight into pupil achievement. Why, then, is the system so hell-bent on this blinkered approach?

Admittedly, the report supports a national testing system, but not the way it is currently. And the cynics will see internal assessment as a Pandora's box for bias. But the current system is condemned in the teaching profession for testing teachers and schools, not pupil ability. In Wales, it is also draining school budgets to the point where pupils are not getting the basic learning aids they should be entitled to, even though Sats have been abolished.

Brian Lightman, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, believes the system needs fixing. And if external testing merely means another teacher from another school assessing pupils, than surely it makes no difference if testing is done within schools, if it is rigorously controlled?

It makes sense to trust teachers and free up the huge bills - cash that should be benefiting pupils. Postage alone costs a fortune. An overhaul of the exam system in favour of internally-led assessment would release more money, free up staff time, and make halls and gyms available for the wider learning experiences of pupils.

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