Sunday, 18 November 2012

Schools as Exam Factories

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have sagely announced that British schools have become 'exam factories' - conveyor belts endlessly churning out pupil-products ill-equipped for the world of work. The CBI should appreciate better than most organisations that have success in business involves cutting corner - minimum input, maximum output. Is it really surprising that after New Labour and the Conservatives have pounded the education system for 25 years with marketisation policy, is it really that surprising that schools end up behaving like businesses?

Businesses outsource their labour for greater profit - sure, this might not help Gwyn the Welsh production line operator, as he sees his job being produced by a robot or a Chinese worker, but it does cut costs and maximise the company's profit, which ultimately is what matters. Likewise for Gwyn's son at school - sure, being forcefed exam technique at the expense of more well-rounded learning is not overwhelmingly helpful, but it does mean he will pass more exams, which is what matters for schools and league tables.

And what is one teacher able to do? If you have a factory making losses, do you direct your ire at an individual cog in the machine, and suggest it has 'lost its way'? Hmm.

You know what, the CBI's report seems pretty sound-minded - league tables and a restrictive curriculum are bad things, and maybe children are coming out of school not as 'well-rounded' as they should be.

But whose fault is that?

It is because schools have been forced by politicians into a market model that they have been nudged into this situation anyway. It is because they are made accountable in order to become consumer-choices. It is because children's success in life is judged only in a quantitative rather than a qualitative manner. It is because schools that don't comply find themselves in the process of forced academisation and find themselves stripped of their autonomy.

Schools shouldn't be exam factories but the audacity of business to take the moral high-ground is quite sickening. It is because schools have been made into businesses that this has happened in the first place. It is because of the looming influence of market forces that children's exam's 'are' their learning, rather than being mere indicators of it.

Treat schools like schools and they'll behave like them. Treat them like businesses and they'll have no choice but to act like businesses.

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