[Examination Schools in Oxford - 'Schools' as they are known to generation of students]
Lewis writes to Dr. Warfield Firor about grading Scholarship Examinations at the end of the term:
...But there is something about this endless examining, quite apart from the labour, which bothers me. It sets me wondering about the whole system under which you, as well as we, now live. Behind all these closely written sheets which I have to read every year, even behind the worst of them, lie hours of hard, long work. Even the bad candidates are doing their best and have been trained up to this ever since they went to school. And naturally enough: for in the Democracies now, as formerly in China under the mandarin system, success in competitive examinations is the only moyen de parvenir*, the road from elementary school to the better schools, and thence to college, and thence to the professions. (You still have a flourishing alternative route to desirable jobs through business which is largely disappearing with us: but it is at least equally competitive).
This of course is what Democratic education means -- give them all an equal start and let the winners show their form. Hence Equality of Opportunity in practice means ruthless competition during those very years which, I can't help feeling, nature meant to be free and frolicsome. Can it be good, from the age of 10 to the age of 23, to be always preparing for an exam, and always knowing that your whole worldly future depends on it: and not only knowing it, but perpetually reminded of it by your parents and masters? Is this the way to breed a nation of people in psychological, moral, and spiritual health? (N.B. boys are now taught to regard Ambition as a virtue. I think we shall find that up to the XVIIIth Century, and back into Pagan times, all moralists regarded it as a vice and dealt with it accordingly).
* moyen de parvenir = "way to arrive"
C.S. Lewis, Letter to Warfield M. Firor Dec 3 1950, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III (2007)