Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 15 Oct 2009

My teacher brother is switching to an easier exam board for better results. Why donít all students sit the same exam?

Hillary's Advice

Itís a good question. Those of us who have grown up with the system never think to query it. My childhood was studded with days out in Nottingham, when my father had to attend meetings of the East Midlands Examining Board, and as a result I always took it as a fact of life that regional boards generated their own exams.

But in the 1990s the many existing exam boards were consolidated into just three for England, plus separate ones for Wales and Northern Ireland, and apparently the thinking since then has been that this level of diversity is healthy. It allows both for a variety of courses and for diversity in the resources and teacher training events available to schools. It also allows teachers to switch from one board to another if they feel they are not getting a good service or a reliable standard of marking.

One national board would inevitably turn into the Governmentís exam board and not many people want to see yet more politicisation of education and ministers closely involved in setting exam grades.

However, as you rightly point out, these days many teachers choose their exam boards with an eye to who will give them the best league table results, and inevitably boards will want to cater to this need. But who can blame teachers for doing this when education has become so much a matter of passing tests and hitting targets?