One of the challenges of bringing up teenage children is the task of relating one’s own educational experience to theirs. It’s hard, because things have changed so much. At the school attended by one of my children the teachers are obsessed with teaching children how to get marks in exams: it is an understandable obsession, but it is soul-destroying for children. IMHO teachers should teach children about their subject. For all its faults – and there were many – my time at school was packed with ‘learning stuff’. Loads and loads of ‘stuff’! But that is not how things are in many schools these days.
The Telegraphs’s exposé of Edexcel’s practices – corrupt according to Steven Twigg MP – is damning. But this is not news to teachers.
During an Edexcel geography GCSE training course in Birmingham, the reporter asked Miss Warren why she should pick the exam board. Miss Warren replied, “It’s very, very traditional, Edexcel, and also, as these two will tell you [indicating to two teachers sitting nearby] you don’t have to teach a lot, do you?”
“No, there’s certainly a lot less content,” one teacher then said.
Miss Warren added: “Yes, in fact there’s so little we don’t know how we got it through [the exam regulators]. And I’m deadly serious about that. When I looked at it I thought, ‘how is this ever going to get through?’”
As the teachers around Miss Warren agreed with her assessment of the Edexcel exam, she concluded: “It’s a lot less, it’s a lot smaller, and that’s why a lot of people came to us.”
And the worm that has brought about these changes? The Telegraph pulls no punches:
Edexcel was previously a charity until it was acquired by Pearson, a multinational media company, in 2005. Its profits have since risen 10-fold and its managing director is one of the best-paid individuals in education. The company made profits of more than £60 million last year – compared with less than £5 million in 2003. A spokesman for Pearson said: “We do not see a conflict between our education goals and our commercial success. We believe they are mutually reinforcing. Our commitment to upholding standards and our ability to develop rigorous qualifications are fuelled by our financial performance.”
But sadly The Telegraph’s story -reported by the BBC as another morally corrupt scheme for teaching teachers how to get children to pass exams. – is no surprise. I have written about it before:
- In September 2010 I wrote: Exam Standards: an apology is called for…
- In November 2010 I wrote: More depressing news about the shameful Exam Board scandal
The solution is simple:
- The UK needs one exam board which would be run by civil servants.
- Exams should not be set, as they are now, by companies owned by large publishing corporations who will benefit financially if more students pass their exams.
- Teachers should have no idea what will come up on the exam: they should teach ‘knowledge’ and then students who understand best will do best.
- The definition of A and A* should be changed and defined not by the mark achieved but should indicate a percentile of the exam population. So for example an A* should indicate that a candidate is in (say) the top 1% of the exam group. An A would indicate (say) the top 5%. Marks B and C below this can be defined differently, and in this way grade inflation is avoided, but students who work hard can do better.
This is not rocket science – but we need to abandon the idea that ‘the market’ has any place in setting exams. Publishers should sell books – not exams. And certainly not set the exams and the books which will help students pass.