Another year, another set of record-breaking GCSE results, another row over GCSEs. I took mine last year, and it did get boring hearing adults constantly badger on about how my A*s mean nothing and that I might as well have spent my study leave lying on a beach somewhere for all the difference it would have made.
But it is true that GCSEs need reforming. They’re over twenty years old, in which time schools have built up a bank of past papers and a wealth of experience with which they can cater their teaching more towards the exams. This isn’t crafty teaching but faults with the system: with mocks, end of year exams and GCSEs themselves, there’s no time for pupils to explore subjects beyond what is going to be on the paper. Besides, GCSE grades are currently all there is to show for those two years’ work, and in-depth knowledge and good exam technique can’t be differentiated just by marks. Besides, technique is quicker to teach.
The grade boundaries also need to change. Having 98.4% students passing their exams is impressive, but what does it mean? To pass, students must gain grade E or above. An A*-C is ‘good’. In last year’s Edexcel maths exam 36/100 got a C; 9 an E. Get roughly one out of three answers right and you’re ‘good’ at maths; get less than one in ten right and you’ll still pass. Something’s not quite right.
With the government’s plans to raise the compulsory level of education to 18, there is also the question of whether we need GCSEs at all. At the moment they help potential employers and Sixth Forms differentiate between students, everyone does A-Levels or vocational qualifications then employers will use those to differentiate; and if entrance exams work up to Year 11, then why not after it?