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29th June 2001 at 01:00
DAVID Hargreaves has finally broken cover this week. Having kept a discreet silence since his appointment last September during the long run-up to the election, the Government's chief adviser on curriculum and assessment has now pointed to a way out of the expensive quagmire of tests and exams.

Hargreaves's solution is to reduce the burden of external testing by relying more on teachers' own assessment skills. This is not just a way of saving money on exam fees. To be effective teachers need to understand clearly what is expected of pupils; to recognise how far short of that standard they are; and to know how to close that gap. This is a welcome return of an understanding of the role of assessment and feedback in improving teaching and learning, rather than simply as a device for holding teachers and pupils' feet to the fire.

Hargreaves also outlined this week a more coherent 14 to 19 qualifications framework which encompasses both academic and vocational awards. Assessing a wider range of learning - academic, applied, work-based and computer-assessed - also demands more flexibility than traditional external tests and exams.

This chimes with the needs of employers - at a time when the Government has launched an inquiry into education-business links and teachers' attitudes to business. Our survey this week shows that, sadly, few schools yet benefit from business involvement in core subjects.

That is partly because, despite all the reforms, employers still do not see the curriculum as relevant to their needs. And in a system so grounded in national testing at every key stage, they see little opportunity for influencing things locally.

For similar reasons employers snubbed plans 10 years ago for an over-arching school-leavers' diploma. The then schools minister Tim Eggar said it would "badge" A-levels, vocational exams and extra-curricular activities. It never got off the drawing board.

Estelle Morris's desire for graduation-style ceremonies to present over-arching school-leaver certificates is unlikely to fare much better so long as external tests dominate. By the time schools get the results, most students have scattered to university, college, a modern apprenticeship or gap years. Celebration delayed is celebration lost.

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