GCSE Reforms – What might they mean for BST?

It is time for the race to the bottom to end. It is time to tackle grade inflation and dumbing down. It is time to raise aspirations and restore rigour to our examinations.

These were the ambitious – and contentious – sentiments expressed by Education Minister, Michael Gove in a carefully orchestrated joint appearance at Burlington Danes Academy with Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. The current discredited GCSE system is to be scrapped in favour of an English Baccalaureate, with the first cohort of students sitting the new exams in 2017.

So what does this mean for students here at BST?

I feel certain that parents of pupils in Y7 will have noted that their sons and daughters will be in Y11 in the summer of 2017. That’s right – they will be in the first wave. It is not the case, however, that they will sit the EBacc in its entirety. The new subject specifications and assessment system will only be in place for English, Maths and the Sciences; the other core subjects, Foreign Languages and the Humanities, will not be examined until 2018 at the earliest and, as yet, we have no detailed timetable for the introduction of reforms in non-core subjects such as Art, Music and Drama.

This is an entirely personal opinion, but I have to say that I am mightily relieved that there is such a lengthy lead-in time. In the past successive governments, seeking to safeguard reforms within the UK election cycle, have rushed through changes with very limited consultation and inadequate time for preparation. Admittedly this means that a change of government might send us all back to the drawing board, but at least your children and their teachers should have time to ready themselves for the demands of the new qualifications. I was also delighted to hear Mr Gove state that single subject exam boards would be appointed by the end of next year:

Critically we will end the competition between exam boards…with different boards offering easier courses or assistance to teachers in a corrupt effort to massage up pass rates. We will invite exam boards to offer wholly new qualifications in the core subject areas.

So far we have very little detail. We know that there will be a common assessment for all children and that this assessment will be end-loaded – there will be much more emphasis on final examinations rather than modules and coursework will all but disappear – but beyond that, and the point that students who are not ready to sit the examinations at 16 may take them at 17 or 18, Mr Gove’s announcement was far from prescriptive.

This has not prevented some fairly predictable media speculation:  a return to old-style memory test papers, three-hour final exams and a 1 – 7 grading system with quotas at each level are just some of the changes that have not been announced, but which have been widely rumoured. One particularly spurious idea that seems to be doing the rounds is that students who will continue to take GCSE examinations up to 2016 are being placed in an intolerable position. This was the opinion of Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT:

Young people taking GCSEs over the next two years have been told publicly that the exams for which they are working are discredited and worthless.

This is at best wrong-headed and at worst a blatant piece attempt at scare-mongering. No one has said that the current exams are without worth. There is general agreement, however, that the system is discredited and in need of reform. In 1993, when it was introduced, the A* GCSE grade was awarded to 2.8% of entries; by 2011, this had risen to 7.8% but more than 6000 young people still failed to register a single C grade.

Year

A*

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

U

A*-C

Entries

Source: JCQ
2012 7.3 15.1 21.7 25.3 15.9 7.7 4.1 1.9 1 69.4 5225288
2011 7.8 15.4 21.7 24.9 15.1 7.8 4.1 2 1.2 69.8 5151970
2010 7.5 15.1 20.6 25.9 15.9 7.8 4 1.9 1.3 69.1 5374490
2009 7.1 14.5 19.9 25.6 16.5 8.5 4.4 2.1 1.4 67.1 5469260
2008 6.8 13.9 19.8 25.2 16.6 9.1 4.7 2.3 1.6 65.7 5669077
2007 6.4 13.1 18.6 25.2 17.2 9.8 5.3 2.4 2 63.3 5827319
2006 6.3 12.8 18.3 25 17.3 10.2 5.6 2.6 1.9 62.4 5752152
2005 5.9 12.5 18 24.8 17.3 10.5 6 2.8 2.2 61.2 5736505
2004 5.6 11.8 17.3 24.5 17.3 11.3 6.6 3.2 2.4 59.2 5875373
2003 5.1 11.6 17.3 24.1 17.7 11.7 6.8 3.3 2.4 58.1 5733487
2002 5 11.4 17.4 24.1 18.1 12 6.7 3.2 2.1 57.9 5662382
2001 4.9 11.2 16.9 24.1 18.3 12.1 7.1 3.3 2.1 57.1 5632936
2000 4.6 11.2 17 23.8 18.4 12.5 7.2 3.2 2.1 56.6 5481920
1999 4.4 10.8 16.9 23.7 18.7 12.7 7.5 3.3 2 55.8 5374751
1998 4.1 10.6 16.5 23.6 18.6 13.2 7.6 3.5 2.3 54.8 5353095
1997 3.6 10.5 18.1 22.3 18.7 13.3 8.5 3.6 1.5 54.4 5415176
1996 3.4 10.3 18 22.3 18.6 13.4 8.7 3.8 1.5 54 5475872
1995 3.2 9.9 17.8 22.1 18.6 14 9 3.9 1.5 53 5431625
1994 2.8 10.2 18 21.8 18.7 13.7 9.3 4.1 1.5 52.8 5029599
1993 12.5 15.9 23.1 18.6 14.2 9.3 4.4 1.8 51.5 4968634
1992 12.3 15.3 22.9 18.6 14.7 9.9 4.7 1.6 50.5 5028554
1991 11.4 14.7 22.4 18.6 15 10.5 5.3 2.2 48.5 4947593
1990 10.8 14.4 22.5 18.7 15.3 10.6 5.2 2.5 47.7 5016547
1989 9.9 13.8 21.9 19 15.8 11.2 5.6 2.9 45.6 5132998
1988 8.4 12.8 20.7 19.3 16.6 12.5 6.3 3.4 41.9 5230047

 

If there is ever to be reform there is no avoiding the fact that there has to be a point at which one system gives way to another. Students, including those at BST, who are currently in years 8 and above will simply be taking the same exams as their predecessors have done for more than a quarter of a century and will use them in just the same way – as stepping stones to the A levels and the universities of their choice.

Where will this all lead? I have yet to hear anyone raise this publicly but I suspect that in many schools across the UK there might suddenly be increased interest in IGCSE and the International Baccalaureate’s Middle Years and Diploma Programmes. The EBacc lends itself to the idea of a broader course of post-16 study, but the prospect of a number of years of reform and the possibility of a political u-turn might persuade many to look at more settled systems. The thought of working flat-out to prepare for the introduction of entirely new assessments in 2017 knowing that a change of government might just render it all redundant is not a comforting one.

 

2 comments on “GCSE Reforms – What might they mean for BST?

  1. Amy Balmas on said:

    With the introduction of the EBcc , does that mean that in years to come , the ‘A’ levels will also seem a little obsolete?

  2. Nora Yamada on said:

    In English we’ve had a stepping stone to this new system in the shape of the new ‘unseen poetry’ element in the literature GCSE. To prepare for this paper children learn to make up their own mind about a text, to build and argument, to present a structured, logical defence of that argument and crucially, to include a personal response. Having just joined BST, I feel children have the best possible context here for developing these ‘old fashioned thinking skills’ because of the small class sizes and the emphasis here on questioning and debate in lessons. If the EBac means children will learn how to look at problems and independently reach a response, and be rewarded as much for their ability to have an original idea as to remember important facts, then perhaps this is a step forward…as usual, the devil is in surely in the detail and we’ll have to wait and see.

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