Opinion: The Future of GCSEs


200px-Question_exclamation.svgThe Government is trying to keep in school those pupils who should have found a job by the time they leave school. By keeping them in school, the unemployment figures would drastically reduce, particularly those which apply to young job seekers.

The GCSE was born about 25 years ago, to replace O’ Levels, which were seen as too academic and not practical enough. When they appeared, they were greatly welcomed by most people as they were perceived as a solution to pupils failing to obtain a qualification due to poor academic standards. There were some very positive points about the GCSEs as they offered very practical courses and were much more achievable by most than the old O’ levels. However, those who were nostalgic about the high standards required by the old O’ level examination thought academic standards were falling.

A great deal of students were successful in getting jobs solely with GCSEs, as the qualification was initially greatly valued and welcomed. However, things started to go wrong. Schools were put under increasing pressure to have higher grades and in a desperate attempt to achieve this, some manipulated results. This led to a drastic fall in academic levels and the pressure was now on teachers and pupils to get the most possible A* to C grades so that their school would look good in government designed league tables.

Twenty-five years on, this trend continues, but suddenly the public is aware that employers no longer value GCSEs as before: the fall in academic standard of the qualification often meant even high achievers were left with far more development required before they would be considered employable. Hence, the need to change qualifications again.

Who should take the blame for this? Successive governments eager to show that they were the best at handling education and getting the best results or best improvements? Schools who wanted to be at the top of league tables to attract more students? Teachers? Exam Boards? And what does it mean for society? This “lost generation” of quality education not adequately equipped with skills for going into the world of work can only be bad for the economy, and, in the longer run, could be a disaster for the whole country.

There is a real need to bring change, then, but will it be too sudden? Should the GCSE disappear altogether or should it simply be modified? Is it correct to expect our youngsters to stay in school until the age of 18?  I personally think that a great deal needs to happen, but only gradually. We should look at other Education systems in the world, particularly in Europe, for some answers; France and Germany have excellent systems which offer more vocational qualifications for students who are less capable or simply do not want to stay in school to study for an A level.
Instead of forcing young people to stay in education until 18 to lower unemployment figures, we should look to create more vocational qualifications and training for those who would rather have a skill and wish to start working early in life. We all know this country badly needs more qualified builders, plumbers, after all.

By enabling pupils to leave mainstream education at the age of 13 or 14 and go to a specialised school to learn a trade, we would cut down on discipline problems; these pupils are often disruptive  as they do not see a purpose to their current studies. Vocational centres of excellence delivering a good curriculum for students wishing to learn a trade and to become very skilled in that field should be created. More academic GCSEs for those wishing to stay in school should replace the current ones, thus enabling pupils to have a better transition between GCSE and A level. At present, a great deal of students struggle as there is a massive gap between the two because pupils are not pushed hard enough academically. This leads to pupils dropping out of their AS levels as they cannot cope with the demands of the courses.

In conclusion, I would say that GCSEs should not completely disappear altogether. They should probably be modified, and more vocational training and qualification is needed if we want to improve the employment prospects of youngsters, want a better performing economy, and wish to achieve greater a more harmonious workforce. We should not force students to stay in education until they reach the age of 18. That is a ridiculous idea which would only suit politicians but would not help society.

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