The BBC has asked a number of education experts whether, with the school leaving age in England now 17, GCSEs still matter as much…
…Prof Alison Wolf, a specialist in the relationship between education and the labour market at King’s College London, argues that GCSEs remain an important benchmark as the results determine students’ progress into their next stage of education, training or employment.
“Yes they do matter as not everyone does A-levels”, said Prof Wolf, who authored the English government’s 2011 review of vocational education.
“Employers, universities and further education colleges care about students’ performance in the core maths, English and science GCSEs.
“GCSEs do not need to be replaced, though I think there is a case to be made between core GCSEs, where we need to work really hard to ensure we have a single clear national standard at all times, and others where we can afford to be more easy going – but that’s a slightly different matter…
However Prof Alan Smithers, director of Buckingham University’s Centre for Education and Employment Research, would prefer to see GCSEs replaced with exams at 14 or 15.
This would mean a fundamental restructuring of secondary education.
“If we are to make full use of the raising of the participation age to 18 it would make more sense for the exams to be moved to age 14.
“If the exam structure was changed to exams at 14, young people would have four years to specialise on academic courses or more direct routes to employment.”
Such a move would bring England more into line with European education systems where assessments at 14 determine their future educational paths, says Prof Smithers.
Under the current system however he says that GCSEs still matter “very much to schools” because the main performance measure is focused on GCSEs.
He adds that plans to decouple AS-levels from A-levels will mean universities are more likely to base their offers on GCSE results.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says now is not the time for the upheaval that such a change in exam timing would require.
“We’ve seen almost continuous structural change in recent decades. What we need to do now is to focus on outcomes and the quality of teaching to ensure all students achieve the best outcomes in whatever course they are following.
“At present it’s important to have a measure of how students have achieved at the end of their time in a particular institution.
“Because we have a large number of 11 to 16 schools and pupils pursue a wide range of different routes after 16, it would be detrimental to abolish GCSEs.”…
Your thoughts on the issues raised here and the comments made? Do you think GCSEs will need to be reassessed in light of the rising school leaving age? Would a different model – perhaps as suggested by Prof Smithers – make more sense for the future? Let us know!
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