The Examination Business

I’ve been critical throughout my career of the fact that the examination industry determines how the curriculum is organised in our schools, especially in secondary schools of course. It’s the assessment tail wagging the curriculum dog. Having said that, we do examinations well in this country and of all the examination bodies and systems in the world I’m sure the SQA is up there in the premier league. I have to say that because I’m still marking Intermediate 2 English Close Reading Papers – you have to request to have your name taken off the list nowadays otherwise they keep you on by default. It’s an interesting exercise if not quite money for old rope! However, no matter how efficient the system is ( I believe we have the only system in the world with an appeals process built in, or did I imagine that?) you have to ask yourself, are we really serving our young people well simply by making them better at passing exams?


4 thoughts on “The Examination Business

  1. Bill,
    You will be aware of the restructuring of the detailed marking instructions for the Critical Essay paper in Higher English. Marks are now to be ‘pegged’ and a response which last year would have gained 13 out of 25, will gain 17 marks this year!
    I have searched the SQA website in vain for the rationale behind this move upwards. I must not be cynical…I must not be cynical…
    Surely the time has come for a separate award in English Literature. The demands of the literature aspect of the course are inappropriate for too many of the candidates. Rather than giving them more marks we should be offering them more meaningful alternatives.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. To persist with a subject called “English” doesn’t seem to make much sense any more, as it covers everything from language to literature to media studies and a whole load of other things besides. Let’s talk about literacy up to a certain level of development then a variety of specialist studies involving literature or media etc. That notion seems to me to be at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence, although English teachers may well see it as a threat. Does teaching English for thirty plus years entitle me to say that?

  3. Bill, in response to your question “are we really serving our young people well simply by making them better at passing exams?” I think the anwer has to be a loud and resounding “no”. If A Curriculum for Excellence tells us anything it is about values and principles and how we facilitate pupils in their journey towards this “end product”. Maybe it we should not be looking so closely at the “end product” but at the processes that lead our pupils there. Personalisation, breadth and choice are not just buzzwords in education today but a real opportunity to help our pupil arrive at the same end but in a far more meaningful way.

  4. Hi Emma,
    Good to hear from you. I think you’re absolutely right. Quite a bit of resistance to CfE has come from secondary teachers who say they will change their thinking when the exams change, or when the emphasis on exams changes. While I can understand this up to a point, I prefer to turn the question on its head and ask whether developing the four capacities in young people will make them more, or less, able to face the challenge of exams, no matter what the exams look like.

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