Are Schools Exam Factories?

Are schools exam factories?

Take a look at a picture of a contemporary factory production line, how does the analogy pan out? Are the robots teachers? The products, children? The outcome, the exam? If a car factory makes cars, an exam factory makes exams, Pearson?

Well, no, the child must be the outcome, but not any colour as long as it’s black… Isn’t this the metaphor, the Fordist idea? These days factories churn out cars that are seemingly personalised for the customer… any colour as long as it suits your personal choice, different engines, seat coverings… and then the customer can add a smiley sun ‘smell nice’ to add to the character of their car…

Some car companies even cheat at exams…

The metaphor should not be exam factories, it should be ‘Child Factories’… Our factory child is clearly a child though seems different to other children, shaped around customer choice… and the customers? Parents? Or ‘Society’? Can we buy the product? What if we don’t want it, can we reject it to sit in a car lot for the rest of its days?

The robotic teachers all doing the same thing, day by day, wielding exactly the same moves day in day out, hammering the child with exams, the nuts and bolts of curriculum, the soldering on of character, the spray painting of happiness, the dark leathery interior of romantic poetry, the engineering of physical education, the computer brain ready to be plugged in to the hive mind. The robotic teacher – provided by an edTech company near you… The child sits lazily on a line, prodded and zapped, it passively passes through – splitting infinity.

Add to this that there are many factories with many products, not just cars, there are bags of crisps, many flavours, there are computers, pork pies, plasters, and plastic things, factories make so much stuff…

And there is a lot, too many, the tyranny of choice?

To reject this analogy, what would we have to do?

Would we want to reject the many different products, the vast and troublesome choice that floods our shop shelves? Far too much? A lot of it is exactly the same too… for all that choice there are many boxes of Persil and Daz.  So produce less, take more care, educate fewer? Make each teacher not a robot but a craft’s person – turning wood or clay into unique products… fewer in a lifetime, but each product worth so much more… taking time and care… And each craftsperson  supremely able and talented; not mechanistic, artistic.

The child, crafted into a unique individual, on the shelf of a select arty shop, fewer but more discerning customers picking them up and appreciating the craft that has gone into turning them into these precious pieces…

Or reject the analogy altogether?

Each child for themselves! Not made by others – free to roam, to be out in the fields and forests shaping their own destinies through the force of their inner spirits…


No more teachers, no more school…


Or find a different analogy?



5 thoughts on “Are Schools Exam Factories?

  1. I would say that the true false dichotomy is between the “exam factory” model promoted, possibly unintentionally, by PiXL, and the “Guy Claxton” model of learners learning how to learn. Instead, why not have the liberal education model, which introduces pupils to the best of what has been thought and said, with exams at the end as a summary, albeit incomplete, of what has been learnt?


  2. A school I know has just introduced SAT’s for the 7-9 year old age group. What’s interesting is that previously there was no testing for these students, but now, in a short a space of time, the parents, administrators and teachers have become obsessed with “the scores”. No-one could have designed a social experiment better if they had tried. It’s human nature to compare when a comparison is possible and so long as people cling to the outdated belief that a better education=a better future, then exams will be a key component and students will be educated primarily to pass those exams. The words of Mark Twain, long ago, are still as applicable to-day: ‘I never let schooling interfere with my education’ and maybe our mistake is in thinking that they are the same thing.


  3. I believe the “school” – “factory” analogy is a good one.

    The analogy deals with the process of education, whether each learner is an individual to be educated flexibly according to their needs or whether we just assume all learners are basically the same and we adopt a one size fits all, standardised process.

    At one end of the spectrum we have one to one tutoring and at the other, classes of thirty with detailed lesson plans, progress every five minutes and continuous comparison of progress against target compared to peers.

    For me the issue of “examfactory” conflates the two very separate issues. How we design the process and how and how often we assess learners.

    Your description of varying the product in a car factory is for me a little like differetiating instruction in the classroom.

    One should also realise that producing a car (good) in a factory is different to delivering a service (education), even a production line approach to service delivery e.g. Mc Donalds.

    Schools are not exam factories they are learner factories. Awarding bodies are exam factories. Of course we should be creating learners with the knowledge and understanding to pass exams, it is a no brainer. The methods we use to achieve this are the point at issue.


  4. PS…..the majority of factories in the world do not use robots. Adopting a factory (production line) approach to teaching does not imply that teachers could be analogous to robots. Indeed, a classroom which utilised IT to deliver blended learning might be a closer analogy to a “robotised” production line if used clumsily.


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