Ministers have insisted GCSE reforms were essential to bring England in line with countries which perform highly in the three-yearly international PISA tests – the altar at which many governments worship.
Four years ago, this site researched exam systems in countries which had done well in PISA. This found most high-performing countries did not have high-stakes exams at 16. If tests at the end of lower secondary (age 15/16) existed they were few in number and used to decide upper secondary progression.
It’s possible, of course, that these countries might have changed their systems since 2013 and increased emphasis on age 16. I would think this was unlikely – graduation at 18 makes much more sense.
Nevertheless, I decided to find out by checking the Department for Education (DfE) website.
Unfortunately, the DfE’s definition of ‘outside the UK’ refers only to Europe*. The DfE website, then, only allows comparison with European countries.
I followed the link. Brexiteers, brace yourselves; it leads to the European Commission.
Nevertheless, there’s a handy table comparing some, but not all, European countries. This further reduces the number of countries for comparison.
Unfortunately, the information given in the table is out of date. It describes AS levels as worth ‘half a full A level’ but AS marks no longer contribute to the overall final A level grade. The referencing report for the UK was dated March 2010. That’s before Michael Gove became Education Secretary and well-before his ill-thought-out exam reforms.
It’s not possible, then, to use information supplied by the DfE to compare exams currently taken at 16 or 18 in England with qualifications elsewhere.
Given the huge emphasis by governments since 2010 on harmonizing secondary exams in England with those in high-scoring countries, it should be possible to find up-to-date information on the DfE’s website explaining clearly how exam systems compare.
But we can’t. And the much-hyped synchronization of exams doesn’t do what it claims to do. It entrenches a system which is already out-of-step with most other developed countries where the focus of exams is at the end of upper secondary, age 18.
*There’s a second link allowing users to compare a specific UK qualification with one outside the UK for a fee. This appears to be more concerned with post-school qualifications. Readers following the link will find themselves on the website of UK NARIC (National Recognition Information Centre). UK NARIC is part of the NARIC network, a European Commission initiative. The network ‘aims at improving academic recognition of diplomas and periods of study in the Member States of the EU, the EEA countries and the associated countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Cyprus.’ Whether the UK will remain part of this network after Brexit is unknown.