The Scandal of 16+ Examinations

The topic for today has to be the The Purpose of Examinations, which is the title of a post we put on this blog last week, when the whole issue of shifting the GCSE grade boundaries first hit the fan.

According to the BBC this morning Ofqual ‘ordered late changes to GCSE English grade boundaries’.

England’s exams watchdog told a board to change English GCSE grade boundaries against its will two weeks before this summer’s results, it has emerged.

Letters leaked to the Times Educational Supplement show Ofqual ordered exam board Edexcel to make changes beyond what “might normally be required”.

Heads say thousands of pupils missed out on an all-important grade C this June after the alterations.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg is writing to Education Secretary Michael Gove to call for the release of all correspondence between Ofqual and his department over GCSE marking – and for the release of correspondence between Ofqual and other exam boards.

If any good is going to come out of this business it has to be a national debate and ultimately a clarification as to the sheer uselessness and wastefulness of the entire examination industry for students aged 15 and 16.

Here’s Michael Rosen‘s comment under the Guardian’s article:

Probably best to think of national exams and tests as a kind of government sponsored cult, with its yearly rituals of examination, invigilation, marking, moderation and stage-managed press outrage. It has its priests, and sextons, its own court of enforcement and at the top of the hierarchy the high priests and seers who claim to be able to do the great interpretations – which, like any state religion’s claim to be infallible – are merely responses to the politics of the powerful.

Though this cult pretends that it can discern difference between people and makes judgements on their worth, this has little relation to real people’s real worth in the real world, where all kinds of other capabilities are needed which the cult can’t and doesn’t test eg ability to contribute to and learn from others in the process of performing a task; being flexible when confronted by the unexpected; knowing what to do and how to do it if required to research, investigate or enquire – particularly if the enquiry is going to involve more than one person; being able to motivate oneself (or a group of people) without an outside authority demanding that you do so…

All these ways of going on are ideal for operating in the real world but are a threat to the cult which justifies its existence on the basis of a different set of tasks. These are K1 – the knowledge of stuff; and K2 the knowledge how to do the cult’s rituals. K2 is much more important than K1 because without K2 you can’t prove K1. On the other hand you can have loads of K1 but if you haven’t got K2, you’re buggered.

Long life the Test Cult! Long live its priests!

See also:

Michael’s blog:

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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