School exams: a major flaw in the British education system | Letters

Kudos to George Monbiot for his critique of the English school examination system (the English punitive examination system is only good for one thing: preserving privilege, 27 April). He wonders what an equitable and comprehensive 21st century education would look like.

One answer would be to look at Finland, where there are no pre-graduation exams and no rankings. All assessments are teacher-based and intended to guide further learning. Teachers enjoy a great deal of professional autonomy, rooted in their own training up to master’s level. The Finnish system is avowedly egalitarian, with the aim of minimizing social inequalities. All students receive free school meals. And guess what? Finland outperforms the UK not only in well-being and life satisfaction among 15-year-olds, but also in performance on the OECD’s Pisa tests, which are based on reading, math and science.

The English education system is based on three Cs: competition, coercion and cramming. The Finnish system is based on three different Cs: collaboration, communication and conceptualization. Finnish education is not perfect and it is not the only path to high performance in Pisa. But the OECD is undoubtedly what a 21st century education requires: “When teachers take ownership of their classrooms, when students take ownership of their learning, that’s when ‘Learning for the information age can take place.’ There is an alternative, if we choose.
Chris Sinha
Honorary Professor, University of East Anglia

Once again, George Monbiot has highlighted a major flaw in British society and the role examinations play in preserving privilege. It is of course possible to circumvent the system, as my own experience has shown. Having left public school at 17 without any A-levels, I then managed to re-enter higher education obtaining professional qualifications to obtain a BSc and a PhD, and became a professor at the University of Nottingham.

The challenge of regurgitating information in exams did not help me in any way. But having a more comprehensive education has provided me with a much more supportive attitude in teaching students, hopefully helping many to reach their full potential, beyond the normal exam grade criteria.
Dr Michael Symonds
Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire

There are other reasons than those mentioned by George Monbiot which explain the government’s desire to introduce a Gradgrind education system. The reduction of the curriculum to easily quantifiable elements allows the government to easily monitor education and ensure that educational deviations are eliminated. Good schools are those that meet the criteria determined by the government.

Margaret Thatcher’s plight at the wrong kind of people controlling our children’s education is no longer an issue. The curriculum and teaching methods are determined by the ministers. Any school that does not meet the imposed criteria will be considered as failing and closed. Educational deviance, or more accurately independent thought, is eliminated from the system.

This system also provides a lot of “red meat” to throw at the media. Arbitrary rule changes make it easy to find failing schools. There is nothing more likely to delight the right-wing media than a tough minister cracking down on rogue schools.
Derrick Joad
Leeds

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