Over the past forever a central concern has driven examination reform:
Employers don’t think exams are doing a very good job of differentiating students and/or they are not providing the right skills.
But behind this claim usually lies a lot of ignorance. Employers are often surprisingly lacking in knowledge about the content of exams that they malign. They also tend not to have a clear understanding of the accuracy/argument level students must demonstrate to achieve particular grades. This particularly true for subjects they never personally studied. This is why those who studied at ‘traditional’ schools often hold mistaken beliefs about subjects such as media studies or psychology, and why people who never studied Latin or Classics commonly do the same.
So, here’s a very simple solution to these problems:
Give every student access to their completed GCSE/A-Level exam papers in an online hub. The student would log-in using a password and be able to see all their marked papers. This could then be an ‘exam portfolio’ the student could grant employer/university access to when applying for jobs.
This sounds like a hassle to create but the majority of exam papers are already scanned so that examiners can mark online. Sure, it might take a few technological leaps to link the exam boards together into one hub. But given that results from various exam boards pull through to UCAS using some form of tech-wizardry I am not willing to believe that the merely difficult is entirely impossible.
There are, however, several benefits to the system. First, it would enable employers to compare what students did in their exams – not just what they achieved. If employers don’t want to do this, then we should consider if their opinions about examinations are not more indicative of their wanting recruitment shortcuts than of a genuine struggle to recruit in a savvy manner. Second, if people were willing to share their records (I suspect many people would be), then we’d have an easily checkable record of past exams. Hence, when people start saying “Back in 1987 we had to rediscover relativity in 5 minutes without a calculator” and counterbalances this against the idea that today kids merely “decide if fish and chips are healthier than apples” we can call them out and ask for the proof.
Third, and this is potentially the most important. If students will share with their school, it gives teachers a plethora of options for spreading good examples of learning. At the moment it costs a fair bit of cash to get back exam papers. This means schools with healthy budgets can apply for lots and then use these to hone their teaching and share past mistakes with students. Poorer schools can’t. That shouldn’t be the way.
Given the exam is created by an individual, and the marking is paid for by the taxpayer, it seems right to me that the papers ought to go back to the individual as a matter of principle. That it would have additional benefits for employers and teachers to me makes it even more a right thing to do.