Too little trust in teachers' judgment

25th July 2003 at 01:00
Academics warn that more internal assessment will not please the public.

Warwick Mansell reports

PLANS to replace traditional exams with more teacher assessment under a baccalaureate-style diploma system are being greeted with scepticism by academics.

Last week, former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson's task force on reforming secondary qualifications released plans for the biggest changes in half a century.

The centrepiece of the reforms, to be introduced in five to 10 years, is the move to more internal assessment to cut the number of traditional exams.

The report accepted that internal assessment is seen as less reliable or trustworthy by the public than traditional exams. But it suggests this problem could be overcome if teachers were better trained and their marking properly monitored.

It envisages less formal coursework, with teachers trained to assess students' progress in class.

But some observers believe that a system of internal assessment will lack credibility with the public so long as teachers are judged on their pupils'


Gordon Stobart, a reader in education at London university's institute of education, said that the problem was unavoidable while league tables existed and were linked with high-stakes examinations like the proposed diploma. It was this issue which lay behind former prime minister John Major's decision in 1990 to drastically cut the amount of GCSE coursework.

Dr Stobart said: "The thing then was 'we cannot trust the teacher'. Those concerns are bound to persist while you still have league tables."

Exam board checks would be crucial in any system placing more value on teacher assessment, he said.

Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon, director of the curriculum, evaluation and management centre at Durham university, said it was "patently ridiculous" to expect teacher assessment to be seen as reliable as external exams if teachers are judged on pupils' performance.

Concerns about the trustworthiness of marks gained outside the exam hall surfaced earlier this year, as teachers complained to The TES of coursework rules being "bent" by schools to boost pupils' results.

Last week, Luke Stalwart, a teacher at a school in Shropshire, claimed in a TES column that coursework marks were more a reflection of teachers' than pupils' efforts in "cajoling" students and giving them extra time.

The task group's report is out to consultation until mid-October. The group will not make final recommendations until next summer.

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