The real trouble with secondary school examinations is teenagers. I am certain about this because I was once a teenager and forced to sit examinations. When I consider my schoolmates and what they were then and have become since it is problematical how far the examinations we sat were of much use.
The complaints about the new proposals tabled by Michael Gove often refer to “putting back the clock 30 years”. But he cannot do this because the teenagers of today, while similar in some respects seem to live different lives from those of the early 1980’s and 1970’s. Also, what is proposed is not the same as the old GCE’s taken by my youngsters in that period.
Also, the structure of the economy has changed, the pattern and nature of higher education, the employment prospects and a lot of other things. If the existing system represents a situation related to the 1980’s, now almost olden times for some, and that was a reformed and developed pattern from one devised in the 1950’s and 1960’s to meet the needs of the immediate post war society then perhaps it is time to review matters.
The real danger is that the Government may be putting in place a system designed for the ethos and systems of the first decade of the 21st Century which are now giving way to another major upheaval in the economy and society. If so we may be going forward but in the wrong direction.
To deal with teenagers, if that is possible, one feature of these examinations is that they occur at a critical stage in the physical, mental, emotional and intellectual development of the individual. Given varying rates of these at any particular age and given the personal experience any judgement made on performance will be provisional and perhaps a poor long term guide.
Then there is the question of given the variety and differences whether a single examination structure is appropriate in a complex world even although the attempt is made to allow some stratification and quality control in terms of the needs or interests of both the examinee and whoever is making decisions on their futures.
Because of the requirement to be egalitarian and non-judgemental and all that we may be creating the reverse effect. This is to push the decision making on the individuals into other areas of activity. There is also the demand that allowances be made for those whose social position is alleged to work against them.
In the picture above, from 1933 of a grammar school staff, a number of them will have studied in different ways before university and may well have taken a range of examinations to make their academic progress. They then began to teach for a Schools Certificate which was demanding and highly selective
For some of them later in their careers there came the rationalisation and adjustment of the GCE system, designed to allow greater flexibility and opportunity. Because it seemed to exclude too many other examinations were created and both them pushed into the single structure existing system.
What if the answer for the future might be to have a rather greater variety of forms of examination, some of which are designed to select and stratify and others to allow general qualifications with perhaps some clearer direction of purpose.
Or we could go back even further and have a school leaving age of fourteen with multiple examination types on offer and ample provision for part time study and self improvement.
But that would be much too difficult for a highly centralised government system.