Sixteen years ago, to the day, I received my GCSE results. I’d worked very hard to achieve 1 A, 5 B’s and 4 C’s. I even managed a C in Maths, which I really wasn’t sure I could do, but needed for university. I cried as I opened my results, and can picture my Mum sitting next to me in the car, double checking them because I didn’t think I had read it right the first time. For years after, I waited for a letter for the exam board saying they had got it wrong!
At this time of year, education is under intense scrutiny. If results exceed expectation, people accuse exam boards of ‘dumbing down’. If they fall, like they have this year, people blame exam boards for ‘harsh marking’. If a student fails, their teachers are asked to explain why. What could they have done differently? Did they do everything they could for that student? It’s the most soul-destroying part of teaching I have ever experienced. You are accountable for the successes and failures of your students. Not the students, I hasten to add, you are. This makes me so angry. And why I think performance related pay is so dangerous. You can do everything in your power to prepare your students, then they can go into the exam hall and write nothing. And this does happen, not very often, but it does happen. When I was preparing for my Maths GCSE, I had a tutor. We did this because I was struggling. Maths has never been my strong point and I needed extra help. At no point did we blame the teacher for lack of attention or the school for not preparing me, I just needed 1-1 help and this wasn’t possible every lesson at school.
“The key question is, are [GCSEs] fit for purpose for the economy today?”
The quote above is by Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the Commons’ Education Select Committee. For once, I actually agree with a Conservative politician! I don’t think they are. I think GCSE’s lack the very things our young people need for going into the world. Skills, entrepreneurial ideas, innovative thinking, being ready and able to adapt should be at the forefront of qualifications, but they aren’t. Sure, we need to know the basics, but we also need to remember that young people need qualifications that prepare them for their lives, not just to give us statistics to play with. Some GCSE students today will work in jobs that don’t necessarily exist yet. Very few will only work in one sector. There is no such thing as a job for life and schools need to be able to prepare them as best they can for this.
GCSE’s don’t do this, but neither will Gove’s idea of reverting back to O Levels. We need to harness the best minds in education, business economics and government and come up with something new. Otherwise we’ll all fail our young people.