The British examination system was, surprisingly, modelled on the Imperial Chinese which used public examination to select its government officials. The purpose of the Imperial and Civil Service examination system was to determine whether potential candidates had the skills, knowledge and understanding to work as government administrators.
The central, and important, feature of the examinations were that they were public - available to anyone, and secondly completely seperate from the teaching system.
The objective of the system was to make it immune from patronage and nepotism.
Patronage and nepotism is as alive and well today as it was in the time of the Chang Dynasty.
Check out the boards of any large company in the
UK. How many
the people know each other or know of each other. How many went to the same
school? How many related to each other? How many went to the same university
The overwhelming dominance of Oxbridge in the boards of many city firms and the civil service isn't because
are reservoir of geniuses but because academics have contacts and friends who
they can "talent spot for".
Its a closed shop, if you haven't got the right connections you aren't getting in.
If you had an independent examination on government finance and administration and international banking, with perhaps an option on media management I doubt anyone on the board of a major British corporation or quango would pass.
With an effective examination system what you discover is that the people with the skills and knowledge and understanding generally do not fit our expectations of what is academically and socially acceptable.
Half a lifetime ago when the 11+ was in operation kids were selected for higher education on the basis of examination. It wasn't about who you parents were and what primary school you went to. It was about whether you could return in a result.
Teachers will tell you that 11 is far too early, I would go in the opposite direction. The younger you test them the easier it is to identify natural ability. Ability is not the same as knowledge and education. It gets easier, not more difficult to pick out the outstanding students.
Kids do well at school because their parents and society and culture they come from value education. They see it as a chance for financial and social improvement. If kids are encouraged they will do well - even if they are of mediocre ability.
Intellectually gifted kids will still be gifted, whether they are encouraged in educatiion or whether they are not - they just won't have the knowledge or skills to have achieve in mainstream society. They will grow up to the main drugh dealer in your city, or perhaps a succesful loan shark. The ability is there, but our social system has used Education as a weapon to shut them out.
Teachers are rather like racehorse trainers, they are looking for winners that they know will do well. They are not looking for the 'Eclipse's' of this world, the unpredictable, unmanageble, ugly (Eclipse was almost shot because he was unmanageble) kid out will leave the others standing. Far to often he or she will come from the wrong social background, with the wrong aspirations.
Examinations give the kids from poor or deprived social background and an even break. If there are intelligent, have the ability, on the pass exam they have the opportunity.
Continuous assessment, or the American GPA system, is very good at getting kids to turn in a regular consistent result. The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of kids turn in regular consistent results.
Education is as much about social modification as is about teaching. A continuous assessment system rewards consistent steady behaviour. The trouble is the academically brilliant in any field are rarely consistent, perhaps worse, they are always going to challenge authority.
So the question for teachers is. Are you looking for talent in unexpected places or are you looking a consistent performance? The two are rarely found in the same place.