Niall Ferguson, a leading historian and a senior research fellow at Jesus College, has denounced the “proliferation of exams for school pupils” in English schools. He said the result of the number of tests is, “an increasingly narrow, instrumental approach to education, in which pupils are coached to jump through the examiners’ hoops.” He compared the system to the economy of the old Soviet Union, “over-complex plans are adopted, the bureaucracy churns out ever-changing targets, the workforce becomes more and more cynical.” He stated that evidence for this could be found in A-Level grade inflation: “as in the USSR, statistics of increased output mask declines in quality.” A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools, and Families defended the National Curriculum tests. They said tests provided vital information for parents when choosing a school, and for children to measure their progress. The spokesperson denied that the pressure could have a negative impact on children: “pressure is damaging if it is too intense or too prolonged: the impact of national curriculum tests should be neither.” Ferguson, while maintaining his research post at Jesus, has numerous other positions in American universities. He is also a professor of history at Harvard and a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Educated at Magdalen, he is a prominent columnist as well as historian. However, Christine Gregory, the external relations officer of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), agreed with Ferguson’s remarks. She said that excessive testing, particularly in England, was creating a culture in which pupils were “afraid to fail.” She said that the result was, “a huge amount of stress on teachers” and pupils learning simply “how to pass tests.” She claimed that this view was shared by most of the teaching unions. Gregory also dismissed the value of exams in providing parents with a guide to the best schools. She said exam results reflected influences like “parental input, family background, family expectations” and “aspiration poverty” rather than teaching standards. Philip Parkin, General Secretary of Voice, a union for education professionals, agreed that exams were too frequent. He said, “tests have a place in education, but our pupils are currently over-tested. We start testing earlier. We test more frequently. We test more subjects in this country than elsewhere.” He added that it was time for the Government to bring the excessive testing regime to an end, “We would like to see England follow the lead set by Wales and scrap SATs.” He referred to a report on Testing and Assessment by The House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee, which was issued last Tuesday. The report found, “the use of national test results for the purpose of school accountability has resulted in some schools emphasising the maximisation of test results at the expense of a more rounded education for their pupils.” The committee recommended reform of the testing system “in such a way as to remove from schools the imperative to pursue test results at all costs.” A teacher trainer, who wished to remain anonymous, also supported Ferguson’s claims. He argued that exams which were “little diagnostic events” designed to measure pupils’ progress, “wouldn’t be a big deal.” Rather, the problem, he said, lies with exams that have “real outcomes” in terms of school funding and reputation. This means that the result “is absolutely everything” and will cause teachers to teach to the exam. He said that because of this, “there isn’t any long span of time when pupils will be developing broader understanding.” Parents’ attitudes to the exam system are mixed. One parent, whose children attend a state grammar school, agreed that society places “too much emphasis” on testing, but said that she had not found it to be a problem. This, she said, was thanks to the school’s policy of “not being an exam factory but [focusing] on the child’s complete growth.” Another parent, whose children are educated in the private sector, suggested that the emphasis on exams is prevalent, “even more fervently and aggressively” here than in the state sector. “From the time they are three, they are continually assessed,” she said, explaining that even nursery school entrance could be test-dependent. She described how the 7-plus exams could be a “horrendous experience” for young children. She said, “my poor children are exammed up to their eyeballs.” Kirsty Smith, a maths student taking part in the Undergraduate Ambassador Scheme, which allows undergraduates to work with teachers in local schools, also described her experience of exam-driven pupils. She found that a class of bright pupils taking maths GCSE a year early, had a “really disappointing” lack of interest in the subject. She said, rather than being inspired, “all [the pupils] are interested in is where they are going to get the marks.” A spokesperson for Oxford University declined to comment on the comments made by Niall Ferguson.