Blog: CBEs, GCSEs and Christmas crackers - Simon Lebus

Blog: CBEs, GCSEs and Christmas crackers - Simon Lebus

Great news to hear of our colleague Tim Oates’ recognition in the New Year Honours where he was appointed CBE for his services to education. Tim's career in education research spans several decades and has covered everything from vocational qualifications to academic qualifications to transnational comparisons to curriculum reform and quality of textbooks. His status as an educational polymath has contributed greatly to our own research effort and led to his being chosen by government to conduct its review of the national curriculum. It is gratifying to see his excellent work, both in the specialist field of assessment and in education more generally, given this public recognition.

Tim started his career in education more or less at the same time GCSEs were introduced. The release of old government papers under the 30 year rule shows that this was controversial in government then as it now. Mrs Thatcher is reported as not liking the sound of the new GCSE exams and worrying that it would lead to lower standards; concerns shared by Michael Gove and which were behind some of his original ideas as to how to reform the exam system. Of course the situation has changed greatly since the late 1980s as young people now stay longer in secondary education and more of them go on to university. GCSEs paved the way for a system of universal education and, inevitably, designing an exam system to provide for this required a number of compromises-not least making sure that exams could cater for the whole ability range rather than just a small cross section.

The introduction of GCSEs and the changes it brought to the examination system presented a number of challenges for the organisation (then named UCLES). The introduction of coursework, in particular, meant that we had to process and store unprecedented volumes of paper. John Reddaway, Chief Executive at the time and a civil engineer by profession, was so concerned that he brought in structural engineers to see if the building could cope with the increased weight and volume of paper.

Lastly, I spent Christmas in Kolkata where my youngest son is working in a school for street children. Whilst there I ate what was undoubtedly the most disgusting Christmas dinner of my life but on a lighter note saw an intriguing use for old exam papers, which were being used as liners for our Christmas crackers.

Happy New Year to everybody.

Simon Lebus
Group Chief Executive, Cambridge Assessment

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