Barnaby Lenon, former headmaster of top public school Harrow

Tuesday January 3,2012
By David Jarvis

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/293219/Fury-at-plan-for-more-multiple-choice-exams

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to change A-levels and GCSEs to multiple choice exams to make them easier to mark were slammed last night by campaigners.

Multiple choice exams, where pupils select from a series of given possible answers, have been proposed by leading educationalist Barnaby Lenon, former headmaster of top public school ­Harrow.

He claims the change would ensure pupils learned the whole syllabus in each subject rather than focusing only on specific topics likely to come up as essay subjects.

But his ideas were rubbished last night by the Campaign for Real Education which called them a recipe for a “further reduction in standards”.

Its secretary Nick Seaton said: “I am sure most teachers and employers would reject this scheme because it simply does not test in-depth knowledge.”

Mr Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, the body which represents school heads and governors in the private sector, said the current system encourages “teaching to the test” and formulaic answers.

I came to understand the hard way that multiple choice questions well-set are really difficult

Barnaby Lenon, former headmaster of top public school Harrow

He said: “Multiple choice questions are an important method of examining that is under-utilised in this country. The great advantage of multiple choice questions is that it is a very quick way of covering a large area of the syllabus and it is very easy to mark.”

Mr Lenon, who retired from Harrow last summer, said multiple choice questions should be combined with extended answers in subjects such as English and history.

He said that the main concern of independent schools was that there had been too much emphasis on learning the formula for the correct answer, particularly in GCSEs.

“We all hate that – teaching to the test, learning the correct way of writing an answer. That’s something we need to get away from,” he said.

He said he had previously assumed multiple choice exams were easier than traditional exams but recent experience had changed his mind.

He said: “I came to understand the hard way that multiple choice questions well-set are really difficult.

“If you have got to choose one out of five answers you are not going to get more than 30 per cent just by guessing.”

But the Campaign for Real Education, which advocates more traditional teaching and examining methods, criticised the idea.

Mr Seaton said: “It would help the establishment by reducing the need for well-qualified markers which will cut costs because computers can mark multiple choice.

“But it will lead to a further reduction in standards because it will not separate the bright from the very bright. We need to return to old-fashioned values.”

Multiple choice is commonly used in comparable exams in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, France the Netherlands and the US.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “It is crucial our exams hold their own with the best in the world.

“We will take whatever action is necessary to restore faith in our exam system.”

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