It does seem quite extraordinary that this year’s outstanding GCSE results were greeted as being symptomatic of exams that are too easy and which need to be reformed.
Kevin Courtney is the Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the largest teachers union
It does seem quite extraordinary that this year’s outstanding GCSE results (see graph 1) were greeted not as a result of hard work by both teachers and pupils but as being symptomatic of exams that are too easy and which need to be reformed. Especially when many of those same commentators are very happy to lambast schools at the bottom of the school league tables creating huge pressures to teach to the test.
The NUT is not opposed to reviewing our qualifications system, especially with an expectation that most young people in future will remain in education or training to the age of 18. Rather than introducing ill considered, ad hoc and piecemeal changes seemingly at the whim of individual ministers and their personal prejudices about learning and achievement we need a considered and planned review.
This should be agreed with education professionals, universities, employers and the wider public. The government intends to discontinue modular examinations and return to a system where exams must be sat at the same time at the end of a two-year course.
Modular courses and qualifications, provided they are well designed, help ensure all young people are able to demonstrate their full knowledge and abilities. Spelling and grammar are clearly important, and qualifications in English should assess and accredit abilities in those areas.
Examinations in other subjects should assess abilities in those subjects specifically, rather than attempting also to assess ability in English. This is particularly important for young people who have English as an additional language or those who have learning difficulties such as dyslexia.
While the governmnet expends much energy on attempts to raise standards, while completely ignoring the undoubted present success rate, they are remarkably silent on one of the main barriers to many young people continuing in education. For many students the issue of being financially solvent enough to continue studying is a huge problem.
The reduction and confusion surrounding the education maintenance allowance will cast a shadow over these results as many students will find it difficult to continue in education despite having the grades and potential to do so.
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