Opinion: Do GCSE’s have a future?

200px-Question_exclamation.svgYoung people up to the age of 17 are now expected to stay in full-time education, either in school, college, an apprenticeship or employment that offers vocational training.

To abolish GCSE and introduce a new system of examination testing would be extremely costly and disruptive. Teachers have laboured under a raft of continual structural changes and “reforms” over the past ten years, which has had the effect of contributing to both a lowering of morale and an unacceptable number leaving the profession soon after qualification. Worse, all of this has happened with very little serious improvement made to the quality of education. What improvement there has been is down to good teaching and the determination and effort of the pupils themselves; not to politically inspired changes that usually only tinker with issues and fail to provide funding to implement the changes demanded.

GCSE’s are an important benchmark, as the results determine student progress into higher education, training or employment – particularly pass grades in Maths, Science and English. Universities are now far more inclined to consider GCSE grades alongside A levels for entry onto their courses. GCSE’s, if retained, are likely to be more important in the future, if AS  and A levels are decoupled as is planned.

It has also been suggested that if GCSE’s are abolished they should be replaced by testing at 14. I would see this as a completely retrograde step; young people have to mature and grow in confidence before they benefit from tests which threaten to “define” them into adolescence. Maturity and education take time. 17 or 18 is time enough to step on the treadmill of examinations.

GCSE’s are a measure of what individuals have accomplished at the end of a particular phase in school or college. They are understood and accepted as such by students, employers and parents alike. However, the school leaving age is due to rise to 18 in September 2016 and there is certainly a need in our society for more and far better vocational/skills training aimed at this cohort. In the end, education has to respond to social and economic change. In the long term we need to move towards a baccalaureate style qualification for 18 year-olds, encompassing Maths, Science and Languages in addition to properly funded vocational and purely academic options.

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Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.

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