Exam reform: Focusing on facts ‘won’t equip pupils for modern life’, says leading head

The TES is reporting that a leading independent school head has warned that the greater focus on facts and knowledge in reformed GCSEs and A-levels may fail to equip pupils for the modern world.

Christopher King, the new chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, representing top private schools, raised the concerns in an interview with TES.

“To say that the acquisition of facts should be the overwhelming priority of the education system is to look backwards, not forwards, in my view,” he said. “There’s a point at which if you don’t liberate [pupils] to be able to explore and undertake individual independent research, you’re not equipping them for the modern world.”

… Mr King said that although subject knowledge was important for students, they should also learn to “think laterally, think creatively, take risks and be confident in themselves”.

Pupils should also be taught that “there isn’t an absolute ­requirement to get the right answer every time, and it’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them,” he said…

He said he supported the move from modular to linear assessment, and that he was a “traditionalist” in some respects such as on the importance of good grammar, but if the reformed qualifications contained an “overemphasis on [the] knowledge base” they would “not equip our children for the future”…

More at: Exam reform: Focusing on facts ‘won’t equip pupils for modern life’, says leading independent school head


The full article has a number of other independent school heads expressing concerns about the emphasis on content in the new exams.

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  1. cia262

    SchoolsImprove Knowledge is a key component in education. The ideological zeal in overdoing ‘skills’ has, thankfully, moved on.

  2. cia262 SchoolsImprove Head is not saying knowledge unimportant but that it’s necessary to be able to do something with this knowledge.  And, yes, that means analytical, critical and application skills.  Silly to say stressing the importance of these is ‘idealogical zeal’.

  3. Government won’t listen – stuck firmly to the primacy of knowledge above the ability to do something with knowledge (a cynic might say Gov’t doesn’t want people to be able to think, criticise, analyse, argue).
    Brave heads should switch to iGCSEs.  It won’t be league table disaster if enough do it because league tables would be meaningless.

  4. EvidenceTeach SchoolsImprove Both are needed.  Facts alone are not enough – they have to be understood, analysed, probed, criticised, merged with other facts, weighed up and articulated.

  5. teach_well

    Is that what is happening? I taught the new curriculum and found the opposite to be true. Far more challenging curriculum and children loved the focus on knowledge acquisition. Generated much better work and debate.

  6. teach_well

    BarryNSmith79 I doubt it is much more than all talk. Ch love to know and feel secure in that knowledge. Reciting poetry for e.g. was v pop.

  7. BarryNSmith79

    teach_well our y7 chant Invictus as line up in yard, enter assembly, queue for lunch – they love feeling accomplished. Every second counts

  8. teach_well

    BarryNSmith79 I agree. I taught interventions last year = all about filling knowl gaps. If teachers allowed to focus on this in 1st place..

  9. teach_well Would the ‘new curriculum’ you taught be the GCSE/A level exam syllabuses which the heads above complain about?  Teaching for that didn’t start until the beginning of this term.
    The head was complaining that the new GCSE syllabus was too knowledge heavy and wouldn’t equip pupils with the ability to ‘ navigate it, analyse it and be selective about it’.

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