Call to scrap GCSEs grows louder – better to move towards graduation at 18

Janet Downs's picture

‘Scrapping exams at 16 would create a better education system,’ The Times editorial says today.

Dumping GCSES ‘would free up time that could be spent working towards richer qualifications at 18,’ the editorial says.

It’s right that the focus should be on graduation at 18.  But it’s not necessary to get rid of GCSEs altogether.  GCSEs could form part of a graduation certificate in the same way as other existing exams and tests such as functional skills, Levels 1, 2 and 3 vocational exams and A levels. 

GCSEs are useful in deciding post-16 progression.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the GCSE system shouldn’t be reformed.  Pupils take too many.  And the timing isn’t flexible. 

Worse, they are used to judge schools.  The new Progress 8 measure, which assumes 16-year-olds will take at least eight GCSEs in a particular range of subjects, discriminates against schools which are more inclusive or which have an intake skewed towards those who achieved less well in primary schools Sats*.

Better, then, to regard GCSEs as stepping-stones to further study – a proof of achievement which will decide post-16 progression.  Even better to regard them as part of a package – a portfolio of achievement alongside extra-curricula activities such as Duke of Edinburgh Award, scouting, work experience, cadets, sport, drama, all counting towards graduation at 18.


*Sats are the exams which should be scrapped.  They have no educational value, cause stress and distort the curriculum.  Now is the time for them to be abolished.

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