GCSEs and A-levels riddled with incompetence, say headmasters

In an article in the Sunday Times, 09/09/12, Jack Grimston and Liz Lightfoot report on the dossier being compiled by HMC on the failings of the English exams system.

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents more than 250 fee-paying schools, is compiling a detailed dossier on what it sees as the worsening failures of the exam system.

The HMC has written this weekend to Graham Stuart, chairman of the Commons education select committee, to alert him that its evidence will paint a “disturbing picture” of how schoolchildren are examined.

This week, Stuart’s committee is due to question Michael Gove, the education secretary, about the fiasco over this year’s English GCSEs, in which pass marks were suddenly raised, affecting the grades of thousands of pupils. The Association of School and College Leaders is threatening legal action.

The HMC believes Stuart’s inquiry should look at the wider exam system. It is worried that Gove’s planned overhaul of A-levels and GCSEs may be undermined by the failings of exam boards and Ofqual.

In their letter to Stuart, William Richardson, the HMC secretary, and Christopher Ray, its chairman, who is also high master of Manchester Grammar school, warn that the GCSE fiasco is “symptomatic of a wider and deeper malaise within our examination system”.

They add: “Attention should now move to a focus on systematic evidence such as ours of where the assessment and public examination system as a whole has been becoming worse over years.”

Ray and Richardson say that, overall, GCSEs are inadequate as a preparation for A-level partly because they increasingly focus on those of middling ability at the expense of the brightest.

By Jack Grimston and Liz Lightfoot, Sunday Times. Click here to read the article © Sunday Times.