What next for the GCSE?

What next for the GCSE?

In light of the Government’s proposal to reform Key Stage 4 Qualifications, our timely series of roundtables on GCSE reform provided an opportunity for teachers, think tanks, businesses, students and parents to discuss views on the future of the GCSE. Taking place in September 2012, our series of roundtables on GCSE reform provided an opportunity for teachers, think tanks, businesses, students and parents to discuss views on the future of the GCSE. They took place as the Government announced a proposal to reform Key Stage 4 Qualifications. The latest news on 16-16 reform can be found here.

We hope our report and findings will enable policy makers to make valid and informed choices based on sound evidence. 

As part of the discussions we invited former OCR chief executive Dr Ron McLone (in post 1985 to 2004) to produce a radical alternative to the reforms suggested by the Secretary of State and the Education Select Committee. Ron's proposal is the adoption of a two-phase education system – the first reflecting the objective of a ‘good general education’ by age 14 and the second, a four-year programme focusing specifically on individual interests, capabilities and ambitions for life beyond compulsory education. As a consequence Key Stage tests, GCSE and AS examinations would go, with alternative forms of assessment being proposed.

A paper by Graham Able, Chief Executive Officer of Alpha Plus Group, reveals why a three year final stage would allow for a more appropriate preparation for university or other 18+ options.

Our roundtable events revealed that:

  • Most participants agreed that there is need for some sort of ‘recognition of achievement’ at 16 but conceded that GCSEs cannot be all things to all people.
  • There is a need for other routes that deliver “more practical, work-based and different styles of learning”.
  • Teacher union representatives focused their discussions mainly around accountability and the limitations of the curriculum. It was felt that if the curriculum was less prescriptive teachers could take ownership of assessment, helping to reduce the problem of too many high stakes assessments which the group identified.
  • Businesses and other ‘direct users’ of GCSE said students lacked basic English and maths skills and called for a closer link between education and employment. They also called for a ‘national understanding’ of what was a ‘good education’.
  • Think tanks were keen to discuss the need to engage all students and several agreed that that a ‘one size fits all’ approach was inappropriate. They too discussed the issue of accountability within the system and the negative effects caused by league tables.

Cambridge Assessment is keen to ensure any plans for reform in education systems are positive and enhance learning. We shared the roundtable findings at the main autumn political party conferences and together with Reform and the Association of School and College Leaders we hosted a fringe event ‘The future of GCSEs: another day, another solution’ at the Conservative Party Conference. The short film above features viewpoints captured at the event.

Our final report will be submitted to Government and published this autumn. We hope the findings of our series of roundtables will enable policy makers to make valid and informed choices based on sound evidence.

The student view

We also asked students – through The Student Room forum – what they thought about their education. Feedback showed that students want fairer and more challenging qualifications. It also revealed that:

  • Students made many suggestions to improve the GCSE including: switching from linear to modular exams and vice versa, removing all coursework and vice versa, and banning re-takes.
  • Some felt that everyone should take the same tier of the same exam written by the same board – but others liked the idea of a two-tier – or even a three-tier exam and/or system.
  • Other ideas included: a move towards US-style SATs; a ‘norm-referencing’ approach to results; making exams harder with ‘richer’ ‘more relevant’ content and the testing of the application of knowledge in order to ‘bridge the gap’ between A Level and GCSEs. Some commented that changes to the system would be disruptive and costly.

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