Exams should not define the curriculum

01 February 2012

“An excessive focus on exams and examining has been at the expense of coherence and curriculum,” says head of international exams group.

Speaking at Cambridge Assessment’s debate on ‘Learning comes first: shifting the focus from examining to the curriculum’ on 31 January, Group Chief Executive, Simon Lebus, continued: “We should think of education as an ecosystem, and of course this ecosystem will be damaged if these major elements fall out of balance.” 

Simon was clear that "exams can only sample the key concepts and body of knowledge associated with a subject, and do not constitute its totality”. He went on to say that: “A curriculum’s legitimacy and relevance are firmly grounded in local conditions but we live in an age where the curriculum needs also to look to best international practice and to cultivate an awareness in students of the impact of globalisation." 

The solution to shifting the focus back from exams to the curriculum – in particular in relation to A Levels – is to re-connect exam boards and Higher Education (HE) says Simon. OCR, Cambridge Assessment's UK exam board, is currently running nine subject consultative committees with some 242 representatives of HE and the learned and professional societies in relation to the next round of A Level change. 

Addressing the issue of what makes a good education, Roger-Francois Gauthier, Inspector General for Administration of National Education and Research in France, and Dr Nadia Touba, Project Director of Nile Egyptian Schools in Egypt, shared their lessons learned from overseas. 

Paul Pritchard, Chair of Governors at the JCB Academy, Andrew Hutchinson OBE, Executive Principal at the Parkside Federation in Cambridge, and Dr Stephen Spurr, Headmaster of Westminster School, gave insights into the different types of learning programmes. The consensus was that assessment should not over-determine what is taught. 

Finally, Jon Coles, former Director General for Education Standards and now Chief Executive of United Church Schools Trust/United Learning Trust, warned of the increasing range of tactics used for raising attainment. 

More than 150 people attended and over 700 more watched a live stream of the event online.