Let’s seize this rare chance to abolish school exams and league tables

The regime of perennial assessment so beloved of our politicians is an absurdity that actively damages young people

Hope springs eternal. The government was this week pressed to cancel school examinations for a second year in a row. One in six state secondary schools are not fully open, and thousands of pupils are being excluded under quarantine measures – even those who are well. So the government should ease the exam burden and let schools catch up. As the Sheffield educationist Sir Chris Husbands puts it, “Let schools teach and children learn … learning is more important than assessment.”

This plea has been met with blank incomprehension by the education secretary, Gavin Williamson. To Whitehall, learning is assessing, and education is about exams, testing, data collation and league tables. How else would teachers know what to teach? When this spring it was clear that exams would fall victim to coronavirus, a panic-stricken government grasped for quantifiable data – past records, mocks, guesses, predictions – to feed their voracious algorithms.

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