School examinations are part of the English way of life. They have become established to the point that their need is seldom questioned. And if there was any doubt about their immediate future, this uncertainty seemed to have disappeared with the introduction of the General Certificate of Secondary Education in 1988 and the proposal to test pupils at the ages of 7, 11 and 14 also.
However, although examinations are generally accepted and regarded as important, there is considerable ignorance of what is involved, even among teachers. Naturally enough, interest is primarily in the outcome-the results-rather than in the examining process. And yet there is high expectation of this process; it must produce complete and accurate results on time. It is an expectation that the examination boards often have difficulty in fulfilling. They tend therefore to go quietly about their private business.
It would be far better if there was a greater awareness, particularly among teachers, of what examining entails, its capability, and its limits. For examining will only improve and develop along appropriate lines if knowledge and understanding of its procedures and standards extend well beyond those who work directly for the examining boards. This is in everyone's interest, not least the boards themselves.
This chapter looks at the formation of the examining groups and how they operate, and then takes a board's-eye view of examining from the production of a GCSE syllabus through to the issue of results. But first it is necessary to look at the modern context in which this activity takes place, for there are a number of radical changes occurring in education (of which the GCSE is one) that all interact, and this has significance for everyone concerned.