Friday 28 September 2007

Too many retakes?

Whatever the impact of Ed Balls' move to give the exam regulator greater independence - something that seems to have caused irrational excitement with normally reliable commentators - it risks ducking the real issues around the examination system. One is the perennial question of whether it is a good idea to have competition between exam boards. A second is raised by this morning's Times Educational Supplement: why are pupils allowed to have unlimited retakes at A-level? David Blunkett and Tessa Blackstone resisted attempts to allow unlimited retakes (just as they insisted on requiring a minimum amount of synoptic assessment in A levels) when they were at the Department for Education and Employment. That was not what independent advisers advocated, and later ministers changed the position. We are now moving away from coursework to controlled assessment again at GCSE. But it is worth remembering that in all the battles on standards, it has been politicians not regulators who have - with the exception, to be fair, of Ken Boston on coursework - insisted on keeping measures that are most likely to maintain standards.

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