Our GCSE system and its devastating collateral damage

Our GCSE system, with its comparable outcomes basis, undervalues the achievements of too many students. This must end, says Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders in SecEd.

The exams season is upon us once again and I know many readers of SecEd will be doing everything possible with their teams, in a characteristically calm and reassuring way, to ensure your students are as prepared as possible.

I also know the students you will be most concerned about are those you are trying to get on the right side of the GCSE cliff-edge of a Grade 4, particularly in English and maths. You will know, better than anyone, how high the stakes are for these young people.

At ASCL, our concern is that the current system is constructed in a way which means far too many young people fall on the wrong side of that cliff-edge. It consigns around one-third of 16-year-olds to attaining less than a “standard pass” in English and maths each year – qualifications which are seen as a passport to onward progression in education and are required for entry to many careers.

There will not be many successful countries who think it acceptable that after 12 years of education, so many young people get a grade which cannot be deemed a standard pass. It is a devastating level of collateral damage.

To tackle this issue, ASCL has launched a Commission of Enquiry into “The Forgotten Third”. It is focused on English, although many of the questions it asks could also be applied to maths. The Commission has already published an interim report (March 2019) and its final report will be published in June. Among the questions it asks are:

Is there an argument for replacing GCSE English language with some kind of National Certificate of Competence which values achievements in speaking, listening, reading and writing of all 16-year-olds? And what is the future for online assessment in the 21st century by “stage” not “age”?

Should students have to resit GCSE English and maths post-16 when the failure rate is so high? There is strong emerging evidence that compulsory resitting is not working and is a significant waste of student potential and teachers’ resources (SecEd, 2019).

Read more questions from Geoff and the ASCL Our GCSE system and its devastating collateral damage

Do you agree that GCSEs need to be looked at again? A qualification for all? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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