Parents, teachers and ministers are all engaged in a deception over our exam system says the former chief inspector of schools
Sitting at the back of the classroom, I cringed. A pupil had given an answer that betrayed his complete misunderstanding of the question. His teacher beamed. “Well done, Johnny,” she said, “that is fantastic.”
Why, I asked her afterwards, had she not corrected his mistake? She looked at me as if I were mad. “If I’d told him that he’d got it wrong he would have been humiliated in front of the rest of the class. It would have been a dreadful blow to his self-esteem.” With a frosty glare she left the room.
Do not get me wrong. I am not advocating ritual and routine humiliation. A child’s self-esteem can be damaged by a teacher’s unthinking criticism. But, equally, what is the point of children thinking their achievements are wonderful when in fact they are mediocre or pathetic?
Every year since it has been the same old story. Each new cohort of 16 and 18-year-olds achieves better than ever examination results. Ministers tell us this is because each new generation is more intelligent and diligent than the one before and their teachers are teaching better each year. The truth is the examinations have been dumbed down so that more students appear to do well.
Researchers at Durham University have monitored A-level standards over 20 years. Each year they have compared the results that a group of students achieved on an aptitude test with their A-level grades. A student who achieved a grade C in 1988 would have been awarded a grade A in 2008.
The authors of a report on childhood commissioned by the Children’s Society think that we must employ a thousand more therapists and counsellors to help our damaged children. What we really need is a little clarity about the nature of education and the miseries of man.
Life is about failure and learning from failure. We do our children no favours when we cocoon them in a false sense of success.
We need more competition, not less as the report for the Children’s Society advocates. Why can’t we be more honest? Why can't we admit that some children will fail? When is education policy going to be rescued from the corrosive sentimentality into which it has sunk? "
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