Look beyond exam grades when judging school performance, says exam body

Too much importance is placed on exam results when judging how well schools are serving their pupils, according to AQA, Britain’s biggest exam body, which says that some elements of a good education go beyond strong academic achievement and cannot be assessed by tests. This is from the Times…

AQA is urging the Government to change the way that it judges school performance, saying that placing too much emphasis on exams can have “distorting effects” and let down low-achieving children.

Such comments, in keeping with the views of many teachers, are highly unusual from an examination board that has benefited from a huge rise in spending by schools on exams in recent years.

AQA, a charity, awards about 2.4 million GCSEs a year — 45 per cent of the market — and its total income was £151.9 million in 2010. Spending on exams by schools in England has risen from £154 million in 2002 to £328 million two years ago, according to Ofqual, the exam regulator. This has been driven in part by repeat entries for GCSEs in response to Whitehall performance measures.

The Department for Education admits that its secondary school targets, based on GCSE results at grade C or above, can lead to excessive focus on middle-ability pupils. It plans to introduce new measures based on a broader range of results. But AQA wants it to go farther, saying that the new plans are still too heavily based on exams and should include a wider measure of how well schools educate pupils.

Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA, said that exams were a “very important part” of the assessment, but added: “There are other things that could be there as well. They are not the be all and end all.”

In a discussion paper for the DfE’s consultation on reforms to school accountability, which closes on Wednesday, AQA suggests a new measure to show how many teenagers from each school go on to study at a sixth form or college or get an apprenticeship or job. This could be shown a year after pupils sit their GCSEs at 16, it says.

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