‘Let’s replace GCSEs and A levels with a diploma’

“If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.” That peerless quote, uttered by Blackadder’s addled commanding officer General Melchett, neatly sums up the attitude of the Department for Education. One headteacher writes in Tes

In response to Conservative MP and chair of the Commons Education Select Committee Robert Halfon’s recent criticism of GCSEs, the DfE said: “GCSEs are the gold-standard qualification at age 16 and a passport to further study and employability. They were recently reformed so that their demand matches that in other high-performing countries and better prepare students for work and further study.” 

The truth is that GCSEs do not prepare students for work and further study. In fact, the opposite is the case.

Skills of literacy and numeracy must, of course, be taught and learned as part of any school curriculum. However, what is emerging now is the realisation in universities and businesses that GCSE exams are placed arbitrarily and meaninglessly at a point along what should be a continuous learning and developing experience at school for young people.

Because everyone now has to stay in full-time education, or follow an apprenticeship or training, until 18, there is clearly no point in having a legacy exam which was introduced at a time when young people could leave school at 16 and enter, “qualified”, the world of work. 

Even when taking a hardheaded approach to the requirements of cutting edge industries, the orthodoxy of deeming some educational subjects worthy (science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem), English etc) and others less so (arts and crafts, technical) is suspect. Not so long ago, the educationalist Bill Lucas wrote in Tes that a focus on Stem subjects at school is not sufficient for would-be engineers.

Rather, he says, the world-class civil engineering department at UCL has shown that undergraduates do not need maths or science at A level in order to excel, which turns the accepted politically driven orthodoxy on its head. Lucas suggests that other subjects matter too, art and design in particular, in helping to facilitate what he proposes are the necessary habits of mind. Clearly, the government’s obsession with “facts” and end of course exams as the only true measure of competence requires fresh scrutiny.

Read the full article ‘Let’s replace GCSEs and A levels with a diploma’

Do you agree with this headteacher? Read his views on what education should look like. Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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