More than 150 people including teachers, assessment experts, employers and journalists attended a debate on what a good programme of learning should look like organised by Cambridge ESOL's parent, Cambridge Assessment, on 31 January.
The debate, which was also watched live online by 700 people, was opened by Group Chief Executive Simon Lebus, who told the audience that the curriculum should define exams not the other way round. The most important thing that could be done to achieve this he said was to reconnect exam boards and higher education. “OCR is currently running nine subject consultative committees with representatives of HE and the learned and professional societies, and this was a model we also used when we developed the Cambridge Pre-U,” he said. “I would also like to see Universities and learned societies involved in monitoring standards. It would be a better way of maintaining standards than the current set of arrangements, and would also offer a more effective method for grounding exams in the curriculum.
The recent undercover investigation into teacher training days by the Daily Telegraph raised an issue that received less public attention than others he said, namely the implicit assumption that exams have become extremely predictable. “There is a depressingly instrumental view that it is not worth learning anything unless you are to be examined on it, and that an exam is not fair if it strays beyond the strict parameters of what has been covered in textbooks and lessons. Exam questions can only sample the key concepts and body of knowledge associated with a subject, and do not constitute its totality,” he said.
The increasing involvement of politicians in education reform had led to an excessive focus on exams and examining over the past 25 years, he said, with exam results used as instruments to measure change at the expense of coherence and curriculum. “We should think of education as an ecosystem, and of course this ecosystem will be damaged if these major elements fall out of balance,” he said.
This balance had been further aggravated by a "preoccupation with trying to achieve a precision in measurement, and at the same time make exams more accessible that can sometimes work to the detriment of what is being measured", he said.
Presenters at the event included Jon Coles, former Director General for Education Standards, Department of Education and Dr Nadia Touba, Project Director of Nile Egyptian Schools NES – Egyptian Education Fund, Cabinet of Ministers – Egypt. Nansi Ellis, Head of Education Policy & Research, ATL; and Richard Earp, Education & Skills Manager, National Grid were among the panellists. Dr Stephen Spurr, Headmaster of Westminster School, and Paul Pritchard, Chair of Governors at the JCB Academy gave an insight into different types of programmes of learning.
Visit http://www.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/ca/Viewpoints/Viewpoint?id=137882 to view films or download podcasts of the event.