The future of GCSEs and assessment at 16: Expert opinions canvassed by the BBC

GCSEs have been in the headlines over the past few weeks as a row over whether candidates were too harshly graded in their English GCSE continues. The debacle has refocused the spotlight on what the future holds for the qualification. The BBC has sought the opinion of leading education experts Brian Lightman, Nick Seaton, Dr Kevin Stannard, Bill Watkin and Lord Baker to explain what they feel is the best approach to assessment at 16…

GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) were first sat in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1988, replacing O-levels and CSEs. This summer – for the first time in the qualifications’ 24 year history – there was a fall in the proportion of GCSEs awarded an A*-C grade. There was also a fall in the proportion of pupils receiving the top A* and A grades.

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Michael Gove said England’s exam system needed to be changed to restore rigour. The Chief Inspector of Schools in England, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has called for an an overhaul of the GCSE examination system but others are not so sure.

The BBC News website has asked some key opinion-formers in the world of education what they think is the best way forward for assessment at age 16.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, says a debate needs to be had about the purpose of post-16 assessment before any changes are made.

GCSE has been a very successful qualification catering for a very wide range of pupils. But the many recent changes to it – exemplified by the current problems with the GCSE English exam – show we need a full review of how any qualification at 16 operates.

The first thing to do is to ask what is wrong with GCSEs and then look at the options to replace it – if we need more rigour, do we need a new qualification or do we just need tighter criteria?

The biggest issue is that there has not been a debate about what the curriculum should look like for these young people, particularly with the raising of the participation age to 18.

We don’t want a return to a two-tier system and so I think any future plans will need to be based on a suite of qualifications catering for the many different pathways that students might want to follow. We don’t want to end up with one qualification that tries to be all things for all people…

More at: The future of GCSEs: Expert opinions

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