The Telegraph, 26/08/13, the head master of Eton College has questioned the value of Britain’s “Victorian” exams system and suggested GCSEs should focus more on workplace skills such as teamwork.
Tony Little said as more children stay in education until 18, the importance of GCSE examinations has declined and that they should be reformed.
His comments came after last week’s GCSE results showed grades falling by a record margin, following a dramatic toughening-up of science exams, combined with a surge in early entries.
Mr Little told The Telegraph that he was not against exams and supported the Government’s attempts to rehabilitate them. But he said when teenagers enter the workplace, “there are constraints about a traditional — one might almost say Victorian — form of examining: sitting on your own at a desk for a given period of time.
“The last thing on the whole that you do at work is sit down on your own without speaking. You’re dealing in teams, you’re dealing in groups, you’re sharing things.”
Mr Little, 59, who has been head of Eton for 11 years, said the desire to continue schooling until the age of 18 was “good sense”.
“It must therefore follow that the examinations that matter most are not those that are taken at the age of 16, but those that happen at 18.”
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, pledged earlier this year to introduce “more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous” courses in an overhaul of GCSEs.
His suggestions included a greater emphasis on spelling, punctuation and grammar, the study of more British history and geography, and the study of a wider range of literature, including more classics.
Mr Little said he wanted to see “greater variety and greater balance”.
He said: “I believe that there is currently no way of embedding in our examination culture the values of cooperation or effective collaboration.”
Mr Little also said that he was concerned that teachers had become too focused on exam results and league tables at the expense of the broader goals of teaching.
“There was and there remains a place for them, but there is also a cost to their use,” he said. “The message that is given to young people today is too often that what is valued in education is examination results, and that tendency has grown as competition for places at the best universities has increased.”
Senior examiners last week warned that school league tables were creating “perverse incentives” and causing GCSE grades to fall.
The heads of Britain’s biggest exam boards said the increasing number of pupils taking exams a year early, at 15 rather than 16, to “bank” a good grade was linked to a decline in pass marks. They also highlighted the rise in numbers of pupils sitting both GCSEs and International GCSEs.
Mr Little said the fundamental role of a school had nothing to do with exams.
Instead it was “about learning how to be part of a community of human beings, part of a tribe, and how to do that in a humane and effective way”.
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