Testing times for teenagers

BRITISH teenagers have been rightly criticised for their hedonistic behaviour in Mediterranean resorts. But one group of young people can be excused for wanting to party this summer. They are the 18-year-olds who have just endured A-levels.

This year group has borne the brunt of successive governments' hunger for testing. They were the first to be tested at 7, 11 and 14 and, of course, they were the pioneers of the AS and A2 experiment.

Most students used to take three A-levels in the upper-sixth, with a couple of papers in each. But this group had to do four AS-levels in the lower sixth and three in the upper-sixth. In total, they took about 21 papers, plus coursework and re-sits.

These are woeful statistics. But now we have another. Secondary pupils are "losing" 46 weeks of schooling to exams and tests (see page 4). Perhaps that is unsurprising. The exam season now lasts from May to the end of June, the number of GCSE and A-level scripts has soared from 2.6 million to 24m since the 1970s, and secondaries are said to spend an average of pound;200,000 a year on exam fees.

Absurdly, some schools have turned their gyms into exam halls for up to three months and one secondary has even reserved a room at Market Rasen racecourse as an overspill exam centre. No wonder leading public schools complain that they are becoming "exam factories".

The Blair Government is not solely responsible for this situation. Employers and universities require ever-more refined academic sorting mechanisms. Governments throughout the Western world are demanding more accountability measures from all public services - not just education.

Nevertheless, it is clear that England's testing regime is overblown and may be demotivating children rather than driving up standards. It is also evident that the A-level reforms have not been successful, even though their underlying aim - to broaden the sixth-form curriculum - was laudable.

Mr Blair and Estelle Morris may brush off suggestions that AS-levels should be scrapped, especially as it is Conservative policy. But a radical re-think of examinations policy is now overdue.

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