GCSEs and A levels should be replaced with graduation at 18, Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Select Committee, is expected to say today. He will suggest a Baccalaureate system comprising exams taken at 18, arts, sciences and vocational subjects when he addresses the Edge charity.
GCSEs are pointless, he will say.
I have long argued that England should move to graduation at 18 via multiple routes. Where I differ from Halfon is his wish to ditch GCSEs and A levels.
A graduation certificate at 18 could comprise GCSEs, A levels and existing vocational exams (forget T levels – we already have BTecs) while incorporating other activities such as work experience, a portfolio showing competence in creative subjects, an extended essay, taking part in a range of activities including sport, drama, dance, scouting, Duke of Edinburgh Award and voluntary work.
This would avoid the widespread upheaval caused by entirely dismantling our existing system particularly when it’s been extensively overhauled in recent years.
While GCSEs aren’t entirely ‘pointless’ as Halfon will argue, the emphasis on GCSEs could be much reduced by viewing GCSEs as stepping-stones towards future study at 16+ (called upper secondary in other countries) and reduce the mandatory number of GCSEs to, say, three core subjects: maths, English and science.
Pupils would continue to study a broad range of subjects up to 16 without the need to drop them at 14 (or, worse, at 13). But there would be no compulsion to take a formal exam unless pupils wished to do so – teacher assessment in subjects outside the core together with pupil preference could decide future pathways.
One thing is essential, however. Stop using GCSEs to judge schools. Examinations should benefit the pupils taking them. Pupils’ needs are paramount – not the school, not the academy trust and certainly not a political system.
The goal is graduation at 18 via multiple routes. Only then will we have a system which serves each young person and not politicians who delight in boasting how their ‘reforms’ have boosted standards. But measuring schools by academic test results has negative consequences. The worst of these being a decline in education quality and a devaluing of any success which can’t be measured by formal academic exams.
UPDATE 11 February 13.08: More details of Halfon's speech are given at Schools Week. These include Halfon's suggestion for 16-19 education whereby the upper secondary curriculum would be made up of six subject groups. Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary said there was 'merit to the idea of scrapping GCSEs' and moving towards a single set of exams at 18 but warned about 'significant practical problems'.