Nothing could have exposed the fragility of the Examination System more than the row going on, exposing orders passed down to move the goal posts so that the results would look more like last year’s. It should be clear by now that any examination system will always be a nip and tuck device. You cannot have a Gold Standard, because there is no immutable measurement to appeal to.
If you do not want students to regurgitate rote learning, then you should not suppose examinations will deliver an ability think inventively: that ability, as we have always known in the Art & Design Schools, is best fostered by project work, which cannot be squashed into the sausage machine of examination, and which requires more time and energy from the teaching staff.
Writing about this system I tried to identify all the parts where something could go wrong. One example was of a teacher who got it wrong & whose students, faithfully regurgitating his interpretation, therefore got low marks, though it wasn’t their fault. Some of you may have thought this a bit far-fetched, so here comes a letter from the Guardian (20 September 2012)
If this English master’s pupils had reproduced his interpretation in a question on Blake, they would have suffered the same fate.
The real problem arises when examinations, not very brilliant tests of ability, are bundled together & called Qualifications, which then determine the ability of an individual to go further, quite likely into areas where those ‘Qualifications’ are irrelevant. The imposition of 5 O levels, or two A levels, as an entry qualification for Art & Design Courses was entirely unnecessary, but did have the effect of closing an avenue for working class students. In my own case, I failed the easiest Physics O level paper in years. By some chance, being a very innumerate person, I passed O level Maths. That was the shibboleth. Had I failed it, I would not have gone to Oxford, & would not have become a teacher. My life would have been totally different, for a quite arbitrary reason.