Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Exams – Do we need them?

Commission on School Reform says examinations are still the best guarantee of fairness

The Commission on School Reform, the independent group of education experts set up by the think tank Reform Scotland, has today released a new paper in which it says that anonymously marked examinations remain the best way of guaranteeing consistent standards in Scottish schooling.

The Commission, which is composed of teachers and other education experts, says that scrapping examinations and relying purely on teacher judgment would create a series of perverse outcomes including:

  • Unintentional bias for or against certain social or demographic groups (for example against children from deprived backgrounds, or for children from affluent background who have previously performed well, also called the halo effect)
  • Pressure put on teachers to award the grades required for university entrance, particularly in private schools and in the most affluent state school catchment areas
  • Grade inflation caused by teachers wanting their children to succeed, which is likely to be further exacerbated by government assurances of a ‘no detriment’ appeals system

The full paper – Exams: Do we need them? – can be downloaded using the link below.

The Commission concluded that, although coursework is an important part of the assessment system and can reward skills and abilities that exams cannot, examinations marked anonymously remain the best way of guaranteeing that standards are consistent and results are equitable between different social groups.

Examinations are not good at everything. Course-work can assess skills and understanding that examinations cannot.

“However the experience of exam cancellations over the last couple of years tells us all we need to know about the important role that exams play in ensuring quality, consistent marking, and equity across the social divide.

“They test memory and focus, and teach young people how to consolidate knowledge over short periods of time, which are important and useful skills for life and work.

“Furthermore, anonymous marking is effectively insurance against the sort of rapid grade inflation that ultimately only ends when every pupil returns straight As, which would do no favours to either individual pupils or the country as a whole.

“If Scotland were to scrap exams altogether, as some wish, it would put us out of step with the rest of the world, which increasingly relies on a hybrid model of coursework and exams.

“That should be our future, too.”

Keir Bloomer, Chair of the Commission on School Reform


Exams – Do we need them?