The Purpose of Examinations

Having just blogged about the value of certificates as opposed to education that teaches young people about their real strengths and other areas for improvement and development, we think it’s worth taking a look at today’s Guardian editorial on the subject of examinations:

GCSEs: exams, examined

August is always a cruel month for anybody involved in education. Floundering exam boards have made this August crueller than most

Hundreds of thousands of English GCSE candidates and their teachers are still uncertain of the best response to unexpectedly disappointing grades, and the education secretary, Michael Gove, insists he can offer nothing but sympathy to those who took an exam that in his view is intrinsically unjust.

The narrow case of the English GCSE grade boundaries illustrates just how broad a burden exams bear – individual student ranking, teacher assessment, and school performance.

Results influence students’ employability, chances and choices for further education, and also determine school league tables.

Exams determine what teachers teach, what pupils learn, and which skills and abilities are tested; they are both final exits and first entrances. The structure of exams shapes syllabuses and timetables and the fundamental focus of schools. They shape the education system.

 If Mr Gove was to restrain his enthusiasm for eye-catching initiatives and instead to concentrate on the most effective way of getting the changes he wants, he would keep GCSEs and encourage a public debate with teachers, parents and employers about what and who exams are for.

Perhaps we could put in a reminder here that the Confederation of British Industry has already put out statements saying that examinations at the age of 16 should be abolished, and we ought to think very carefully about whether our entire education system is fit for purpose.

See also:

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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