Secondary modern schools form the focus for this paper, which explores an aspect of this topic that has received comparatively little attention: the role of external examinations in determining the character and fate of these schools during the 20-year period when they educated the 'large majority'1 of pupils in the 11 to 15 age range. Particular attention is paid to the pivotal role played by external examinations in secondary modern schools' quest for parity of esteem with grammar schools. Various functions performed by external examinations are considered and it is shown that, while some worked against the interests of secondary modern schools, individual schools were able to turn others to their own advantage. The paper ends by considering a darker side to examining, which was asserting itself as this brief period of history drew to a close. \ud \ud 1 McCulloch, G. Failing the Ordinary Child? The Theory and Practice of Working-class Secondary Education. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1998: 6
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