Monday, March 26, 2007

Throwing a tantrum

Sometimes I feel like an alien just landed from Mars, such is my utter incapability of figuring out what really the point is...

Take, for example, the recent news from the Times (as reported by the BBC) that Dr Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), is advocating scrapping exams for the 11- and 14-year-olds.

This follows, by only a couple of weeks, an announcement that 4- and 5-year-olds would be "assessed" prior to entry to pre-schools.

Now, let's get this straight. The Government is actually proposing to assess a child's abilities on the basis of some assessment criteria (no doubt, thought up by some highly experienced and knowledgeable academic) at the age of 4, but is happy to consider scrapping exam test for older children (and replacing them with 'random samples').

As I said, I really do struggle in seeing the point.

For a start, what is the point of assessing 4- and 5-year-olds? who will benefit from it? what will the use be? what are we doing with the ones that turn out to be dimwits? what about those who would score highly? shall we fast-track them to GCSE? (well, given current standards, they might actually pass them!)

As for scrapping exams, I can see why teachers are doing somersaults of joy at the sole thought: it was the only glimmer of accountability for a profession that has been remarkably left untouched by centuries passing.
The fact that now parents had a more reliable (and objective) metric to measure a teacher's perfomance (as opposed to relying simply on the darlings' comments) must have kept the entire profession on the verge of nervous breakdown.

We, the normal people, those who measure ourselves daily against competitors, the market reality and customer expectations, know all too well what it means to be accountable, to have one's performance assessed against (and, usually, by) peers and to accept the possibility of failure.
Teachers, academics, and public workers in general, live in this rose-tinted world where performance is optional, no objective assessment of one's capabilities is ever possible (or even considered acceptable) and where one's career progression is based on seniority, political acumen and connections, but never on ability or achievement.

Objective exam tests (with all their shortcomings and the disgraceful "dumbing down" sham so shamelessly exercised by Blair's officials) were a means (albeit a timid one) for parents, and other stakeholders, to assess, on a supposedly objective basis, a school's performance and a teacher's abilities - unconstrained by the individual pupil's abilities.

It was too good to be true, and it was only a matter of time for the lethargic, yet powerful and (lest we forget it) Labour-funding, teachers' establishment to fight back to try and revert to "good old days."

It may be too late, however: we, the parents, have now tasted the forbidden fruit of knowledge, and may be quite unwilling to let go of it...

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