Scrap GCSEs and prepare students for life after 16.

When Damian Hinds promised head teachers this weekend there would be no further changes to exams or the curriculum during this Parliament, his words were warmly received. Teachers, he said, are leaving the profession because they feel overworked. Racing to keep up with top-down reforms contributes to that. Journalist and ex-teacher Sam Burt writes in the Huffington Post.  

But, speaking as a former teacher and a student of educational leadership, I found his speech to the Association of School and College Leaders utterly uninspiring. Is this really the best leadership we can hope for: doing nothing? Standing still and hoping for the best? 

The way we do national assessment needs a radical re-think. But if I could make only one change, I would abolish GCSEs.

The case against GCSEs is pretty simple: they were designed for a time when roughly half of students left education at 16. Clearly, students exiting the system need some certification. But now that most students stay on to 18, and spend at least two years preparing for their GCSEs, more than half of their secondary schooling is spent preparing for exams. 

Our education system is still geared towards university as a ‘natural’ endpoint, however unsuitable that is for large numbers of students. A levels are (or are supposed to be) the first year of university. But what is the point of GCSEs?

When figures like the head of the CBI say that ‘rote learning’ doesn’t prepare students for ‘future learning’ — the ability to reflect critically on how they learn — this is what they mean. We teach young people how to pass exams but we don’t teach them how to learn.

When I interviewed teachers and school leaders in inner-London schools for academic research (Contemporary Educational Leadershipforthcoming), they reported feeling drained by the joyless atmosphere inculcated by exam stress. It reminded me that the crisis of teacher recruitment and retention is not about the amount of change or work per se. It’s about whether or not teachers feel that the effort they put in will make any difference. With real-terms school budget cuts and an exams system that writes off many vulnerable young people every year, that kind of optimism is getting harder to sustain.

Read the full article Scrap GCSEs and prepare students for life after 16.

Do you agree? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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