The idea of end of school exams has only been a very recent ideology in England. Pre-1945, things were very different, over 80% of each unit of school students left education without taking any exams! Whereas nowadays there seems to be an abundance of exams, tests and assessments that children have to complete on a regular basis.
The original GCE (General Certificate of Education) was introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1951, this was because the education board felt that the range of subject was becoming too broad. Those wishing to continue with further education could take A-Levels, which last for a further two years after O-Levels (also known today as GCSE’s)
Let’s now look at universities. As some of you may already know Oxford is the oldest English-speaking university. Unfortunately there is no clear date of completion but it is known that teaching took place at the university in 1096. From the 12th century onwards the university developed rapidly, this is because Henry II banned all English pupils from studying at the University of Paris – which was very well developed and up until this point taught many English students. All male of course! It was only in the late 19th century that the academic halls of residence were established for women, and it wasn’t until 1920 that women were able to become full members of the university.
Here’s a timeline of educational events (they may not be exact!) that highlight the most important exam and moderation changes within the schooling system.
1870: The Education Act was established, and this meant that all primary schools were available to children aged 5-13 years old, however, schools could charge parents up to nine pence a week for the education of one child!
1880: The age of compulsory attendance was raised to the age of 10 years old.
1891: Primary education essentially became free – yippee!
1918: The leaving age was raised to 14.
1944: Butler’s Education Act created a tripartite, this enforced a hierarchical system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools. Selection was decided by a compulsory exam taken at the age of 11 and the school leaving age was raised to 15 years old.
1951: General Certificate of Education (GCE) O-levels and A-levels were introduced, replacing the School Certificate and the Higher School Certificate.
1973: The school leaving age was raised again to 16.
1965: The Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) was introduced for secondary modern pupils to cater for those not sitting O-levels.
1988: The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE’s) replaced O-levels and CSEs.
1994: An A* grade was added to GCSEs to differentiate between top and lower A grades, as well as the normal A, B, C, D, E and U as unclassified.
1995: The government introduced National Curriculum Tests, often called the dreaded SAT’s, they tend to be taken in the last year of primary school or the first year of secondary school in order to put you into sets according to your academic abilities and potential.
1996: General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) were offered as a more work-based alternative for non-academic students, these are still offered around the country today, many in the form of trades such as Hairdresser, Plumber and Electrician.
2000: Advanced Subsidiary (AS-level) exams were brought in for 17 year olds. These are still a qualification in their own right but also serve as a halfway point in the A-level course, so if you don’t finish your A-level you can still came out with a qualification after one year.
Of course all this exam taking entails marking and there are plenty of multiple choice test maker & exam software products out there that can make the process faster, simpler and more reliable.
Many exam boards are already conducting a fair few of their exams online, and why not! There are plenty of advantages. However it may be a while before paper exams are completely a thing of the past. But whatever the format, paper or electronic, exams are here to stay!