The Great Debate UK

Continuous assessment – just another middle-class privilege


By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

It will be a long road back to respectable standards in our schools, but for making a start, Michael Gove deserves our respect and gratitude. It takes a lot of bravery to confront Britain’s education establishment.

However, there is one critical issue which I never hear mentioned in any of the fractious debates on education. It hides behind a number of aliases: continuous assessment, assignments, projects, and no doubt many others. Whatever form it takes, the common factor is the incorporation into public qualifications of grades based on work completed outside exam conditions – at home, in the library, in the shopping mall, anywhere except under the eye of an objective invigilator.

This sort of assessment has been the main instrument for reducing standards in education for decades, in the process having a corrosive effect on ethics in teaching, spreading hypocrisy through the sector and breeding a cynical disregard for qualifications among teachers and students alike.

When continuous assessment was first introduced, the standard argument was that some students (or schoolchildren, as they were called in those days) were unfairly disadvantaged by the exam process itself – the stress, the unfamiliar surroundings, random factors like a cold on the day of the exam or distractions during the examination itself. Whatever the specific cause, exams were felt to be testing self-confidence or coolness under pressure, rather than pure academic achievement, which is what they were supposed to be measuring.