Who Needs Examinations?

A story of climbing ladders and dodging snakes

Paperback / softback, 86 pages, 240 mm x 169 mm
15 Sep 2014
Institute of Education Press

Price: £14.99

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School examinations do little to test deep understanding, blight the secondary curriculum, cause students great anxiety, pervert the job of teaching, and favour families who can manipulate admission arrangements. Why is it that despite these defects, we cling to an institution which may have been all the rage in the 1860s but has been under fire in every generation since?

The first chapter looks at problems raised about the examination system from philosophical, curricular, psychological, pedagogical, and political points of view.

The second explains why such a flawed institution not only still exists, but has become more entrenched than ever. It traces the British story back to opposition in the mid-nineteenth century to the patronage method of allocation to good jobs and its replacement by something more impartial. School examinations remained the preserve of an elite until 1944, and others were deliberately prevented from taking them. In our more democratic age we assume they are for everybody. But are they as egalitarian as they seem?

Are we now heading towards the ‘examination hells’ of China and other East and South Asian countries, just as those countries are looking for ways to extricate themselves from this straitjacket? The final chapter of the book examines alternatives.

This book is essential reading for teachers, policy-makers, and students of assessment and curriculum studies.

  • John White

    John White is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.

CONTENTS: Introduction; 1. Problems; 2. Explanations; 3. Solutions; Notes; References; Index

Like the good philosopher of education that he is, John White poses penetrating questions about the methods of examining pupils’ achievement. The answers he teases out reveal a picture far less satisfactory than education ministers would have us believe. The book is a must-read for all who are unhappy about the impact of our education system on our children and who wish to see it improved.

Professor Peter Mortimore, Professor of Education at the University of Southern Denmark

This is a significant and unique book, not only because it analyses the examination system from historical and philosophical perspectives, but also because it presents alternatives that are more positive and oriented to the future. This call for a new vision of how the needs of tomorrow’s society might be met and why the examination system has persisted, addresses the important hope for students to be equipped to lead personally flourishing lives.

Professor Val Klenowski, Professor of Education, Queensland University of Technology