Questions for you, Mr Tomlinson

29th October 2004 at 01:00
The Tomlinson Report and its reception prompt immediate questions. If teachers are so fed up with assessing coursework, why are they said to favour proposals which seem to rely at least as much on teacher assessment, no doubt unpaid, so as to reduce the much-criticised expense of the present system, which consists mainly of payments to examiners?

One of the reforms in GCSE modern language examining was to replace paid external oral examiners with the class teacher and a tape recorder. Most teachers in my experience, while continually assessing the performance of their students, don't like the role of examiner, which obliges them to fail pupils whom they like and who have worked to the best of their ability.

Platform (TES, October 1) recently warned of the corrupting effect of perverse incentives in the field of exams. We might like to think that our teachers are specially incorruptible, but the financial scandals in the wake of further education incorporation, and teachers more recently accused of "tweaking" results, show that we are not.

Resistance has already been expressed to the dropping of a "leaving certificate" at 16 by abolishing GCSE, but since the rest of Europe doesn't seem to think it useful, I await an argument (and have done so for years) as to why they are wrong and are depriving their youngsters of a valuable opportunity.

And why do we need A* or A**? Why not use numbers? My GCEs gave a percentage mark, I think in 5 per cent increments. Other countries mark out of 10, so, for example, a minimum of 4 can be required to pass compulsory subjects and an average of 6 for an overall pass; universities then, as they do in some countries, could decide what overall average and individual subject marks they required for entry to different courses.

We also need to think how "stretching" the best pupils when they have two higher grades to reach at may affect the teaching of the others. It is a rare pupil who stretches to the maximum unaided; they need a teacher to tug until their mental elastic goes taut. Will this require a disproportionate share of teacher time for two pupils in a class compared with the needs of half a dozen lower down?

I hope your analysis of such an important report will use international comparisons to dissect its logical and practical coherence, its research base and the validity of its conclusions.

Michael Martin

35 Bright Road

Chatham, Kent

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