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The British government is failing its exams

I did a posting yesterday at my Education Blog about a suggestion for a more “free market” approach to Britain’s examination system. It is of course not a suggestion for a real free market, merely for a centrally licensed franchise system.

Anyway, this comment appeared today about this, which gives an excellent if anecdotal feel for the state of education in Britain now:

A friend of mine (source protection here) was asked to mark double the usual amount of scripts this year because that particular exam did not have enough markers. That’s 400 scripts in about 4 weeks.

Reasons for the lack of recruits: a) the markers are paid peanuts b) it’s just at the beginning of the summer holidays, and most teachers would rather have a rest than do even more marking c) teaching is such a depressing business to be in at the moment that many of the sparkiest – who would make competent examiners – are getting the hell out.

Exam board solutions:
This year they offered to pay schools for supply cover so that instead of teaching, examiner-teachers could spend school time marking scripts. Not surprisingly, the take-up was small.

Gossip from my anonymous friend: exam boards are considering making a deal with schools whereby if the school wants to sit that board’s exams, they’ll have to supply n teachers to mark them.

I can’t wait to see it all implode, necessitating some market solutions rather than this government-sponsored-shoe-string job.

My worry is that the “market solutions” they resort to will, like that proposed “free market” exam franchising system, not be real market solutions. The government will stay totally in command of the curriculum, and the “free market” will just be another more complicated way to pay state hirelings.

A real free market in exams would mean competing curricula, competing exams to examine mastery of said curricula, and teachers, parents, pupils and employers organising, advising and choosing at will, to suit themselves and their various ambitions and purposes. The government’s job would be to stay out of it all, while every so often making the occasional discouraging remark about how education is over-rated and that it prefers ignorance, especially for children, thereby giving the adults who are organising everything the confidence that the government would continue to stay out of everything, and thereby getting the kids all excited about it.

Dream on Brian. Which is what I am for, I suppose.

1 comment to The British government is failing its exams

  • Guy Herbert

    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.