GCSEs count for nothing, which is why they need to go

21 Sep 2012

Clearly, our children are becoming more intelligent year after year, and before long, the green and pleasant land will be inundated with a caboodle of competent clever clogs ready to ignite the academic world. Clearly not, what is clear however, is that GCSEs aren’t hard enough. The majority of universities merely skim over them, employers will all but ignore them entirely, and as long as you meet the easygoing entry requirements for your sixth form college, that delirious August morning of trepidation, waiting to discover your GCSE results, will seem a million miles away from reality. The reality is that you will never need to give them a second thought ever again. 


One example worth noting would be the website ‘w4mp’, funded by the House of Commons, where job opportunities to work for a number of MPs and a multitude of think tanks are advertised. The site gives you a useful guide on how to compile your CV and cover letter for application. Significantly, this particular guide renders your GCSE results as ‘almost totally irrelevant’. How reassuring this must be for someone who left school at 16. Conversely, in an examination that produces 3 A or A* grades in every 10, you can see why. It is clear that the current GCSE system needs to change.

On Monday, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, declared the end of more than two decades of “dumbing down”, by announcing plans to scrap GCSEs, in favour of new English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBaccs) which will place more emphasis on traditional academic disciplines such as Maths, English and Science. Not only this, but we will see the end of competition between exam boards, league tables scrapped in their current form to focus on traditional subjects, and modular ‘bitesize’ examinations replaced by rigorous end-of-course exams.

Now, Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition is in place to oppose Her Majesty’s Government, funny that. But in Labour’s desperate attempt to conjure up a contradiction to this particular proposal, Stephen Twigg, the education spokesman for Labour, managed to accuse Mr. Gove of both leaking his plans to the press and drawing them up in secret. This left him with as much credibility as a child adopted by Bashar al-Assad and Dale Cregan. But in Twigg’s defence, and in Labour’s defence, they did go on to attack an area which is certainly rather baffling. Under the proposals, all children will take the EBacc exams. Those children who do not pass will subsequently leave school with no qualifications, and will be given a ‘written report card’ or a ‘statement of achievement’, how ironic. Just imagine how denigrating it would be for little Frank to say to his prospective college, “I’m sorry, I’m not very clever so I didn’t pass any exams, but look at my card, I behaved really well”. Is this feasible? (Comments are welcome below.)

Despite this demeaning dearth of compassion in Mr. Gove’s syllabus, I do believe the new proposals to be utterly necessary. In particular, the aforementioned plan to ditch the rivalry of examination boards, and have only one board per subject. As the Daily Telegraph exposed earlier in the year, the examination board's ‘race to the bottom’ fuels a culture of competition where exam boards will dumb down their examination format to meet the needs of punters, sorry, teachers. This malfeasance is fundamentally wrong, forcing many idealistic professionals to teach to the test and encouraging head teachers to offer the ‘softest’ route for their pupils. 

In addition, the plans to scrap modular examinations will certainly stand our students in good stead for university. Currently, with the right revision tactics and the right grasp of essay structures, the current ‘spoon-feeding’ modular examination format comes with the complexity akin to a quiz question on the back of a Frube packet. I have seen numerous pupils put in a lilliputian amount of work throughout the year, and then ‘knuckle down’ to a severely arduous thirty minutes of revision before each modular paper, and come out with an A or A*. It’s called playing the system, and frankly, the word ‘playing’ shouldn’t come up in a debate about our education.

The new proposals will breathe new energy into our classrooms, propelling our students to aim higher and exceed in challenging examinations that are admired around the world, and more importantly, preparing students for the thoroughness of higher education. Most of all, they will mean something again, they will contribute to your UCAS application, they will contribute to your CV and they will contribute to the academic groundwork upon which intellect, knowledge and ambition can thrive.

After learning on Sunday evening that the government’s plans will not come in to effect until 2015, as opposed to before the election, I was eager to gauge the reaction of my sister, who will consequently be part of the last school year to take the Mickey Mouse papers. Unsurprisingly, she raised her hands aloft and celebrated her newfound avoidance of the ‘harder’ exams. Evidently, this is why our examination system needs a good kick up the backside.

Backbench Minister for Education

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