July 29, 2003
Exams and exam comments – here and at Samizdata

If you write for a big blog and you also run a small specialist blog like this one, here's one of the things you do. You put a story up on your small blog. You get a comment on it. You then rehash that comment into a posting on the big blog. And then you recycle any comments you get there back to the small blog. And you keep on doing that until you are the Ruler of the Universe.

So, this time around, the starting point was this posting here about the collapsing British exam system, which Emma commented upon, which I then put up at Samizdata, and which Guy Herbert then commented upon there, thus:

I'm surprised you don't recall that once upon a time – as little as 20 years ago – we did have a market-like system for qualifications for GCEs O-levels, and A-levels (and the forgotton "S-levels" for those for whom A-levels were not demanding enough). The various exam boards were independent, and schools would choose between them, depending on the sort of syllabus they wanted to pursue. The government didn't set the syllabus. The exams were kept honest by competition, because the universities and other consumers of the qualified could discount a board's qualifications if it got too lax.

My reading of the QCA's railway-style approach is that it's a Parkinsonian scheme to increase its own size and influence, which will be supported and encouraged by the government as a means to tighter central control. Compare the invention of the Strategic Rail Authority. While there are still lots of exam boards--even as currently constituted--it wouldn't be a vast adminstrative task just to abolish the QCA and the national currriculum and let nature set the course.

All of which is far too well informed and intelligent not to pass on to you lot, just in case you don't bother with Samizdata. (I certainly hope that this is true of some of you. I try to put at least some stuff here that is of interest to people with very different political prejudices to mine.)

I did sort of know what Guy says about how exams used to be, but there's sort of knowing and really knowing. I mean, did the Ministry of Education in those days have no influence on the exam choices made by State Schools? I don't know. But Guy seems fairly sure that they didn't.

That's a problem I've always had with learning things. I've never been happy about just taking one person's word for it. I need to get the story from several different and preferably unrelated directions. Which I think is an attitude that has educational implications.

One thing I think it means is that with teaching, as with the political persuading which is what I have spent a lot of my life doing, you have to be content to say your piece to your "pupils", and then let them make of it what they want to. Which might very well include nothing.

And exams, of course, don't fit very well with that attitude.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:41 AM
Category: Examinations and qualifications
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