I introduced GCSEs in the 1980s – but now it’s time to scrap them

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As secretary of state for schooling in the course of the late 1980s, I used to be chargeable for the introduction of the Nationwide Curriculum and with it the GCSE exams. It made absolute sense at that time, bringing collectively and consolidating separate exams to mark what, on the time, meant the tip of their time in schooling for a lot of younger folks.

Occasions have modified.

Most profoundly, the participation age in schooling and coaching was elevated first to 17 in 2013 after which to 18 in 2015. Now that each one younger individuals are required to take part, whether or not in class, faculty or an apprenticeships, it is mindless for GCSEs at the age of 16 to be the excessive stakes exams that they continue to be. Once I took the varsity certificates in 1950, solely seven per cent of scholars stayed on – now the reverse is true!


They’ve a profound influence on younger folks’s psychological well being, as Gus O’Donnell just lately recognised in his warning that examination stress is making a “troubled technology”. Simply as essential although, is the influence that they’ve on younger folks’s expertise in faculties and on the behaviour of academics.

We have to create our subsequent technology of engineers and inventive leaders and but the slender EBacc suite of GCSEs is pushing technical and inventive topics out of the curriculum. We now have seen a 57 per cent fall in design and know-how entries since 2010, and a 20 per cent discount in inventive topics in the identical time interval. 

The deal with GCSE efficiency tables is creating such a strain to drive up tutorial outcomes that many colleges are actually educating GCSEs over three years and being pressured into rote studying to ship the “knowledge-rich” curriculum that’s being dictated from the highest.

That is straight at odds with what employers say they’re searching for. There are huge skills shortages within our economy – 226,000 vacancies in 2017 the place employers merely couldn’t discover people with the appropriate expertise to fill the function. This prices the economic system over £6.3bn per yr in keeping with main analysis from the Open College.

Companies are completely clear the right way to fill these expertise shortages and the reply shouldn’t be extra rote studying of info and figures. The CBI’s annual schooling and expertise survey set out that the largest drivers of younger folks’s success are attitudes and aptitudes. Equally, the federal government’s personal Employer Expertise Survey pointed resoundingly to 2 areas of focus: first, technical and sensible expertise and second, interpersonal, workforce working and problem-solving expertise.

Some faculties are already main the way in which in growing these expertise. At Faculty 21 in Stratford, all Yr 10 pupils exit for half a day every week to work in actual companies on stay tasks. At XP in Doncaster, pupils work on thrilling cross-curricular tasks that get them to replicate on their area people and its historical past. At Studying UTC, members of employees from main native employers come into the varsity to set college students actual tasks and work with them to seek out options.

I’ve been delighted to listen to Amanda Spielman’s recent comments reflecting the significance of a broad curriculum and going past easy knowledge to evaluate how a faculty is making ready its pupils. We completely want to maneuver from a curriculum that’s “knowledge-rich” to at least one that’s “knowledge-engaged” – not studying info for their very own sake however understanding the right way to put them to make use of to construct and talk a wealthy argument or clear up an issue.

It’s now time for schooling coverage to catch up.


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As Robert Halfon MP, chair of the schooling choose committee, made clear at our Edge Basis occasion on Monday, we should essentially reimagine this part of schooling. Which means quietly placing to sleep the GCSE exams that I launched and which have now had their day.

Of their place, what we want is a real baccalaureate at 18. Simply because the Worldwide Baccalaureate does in additional than 149 international locations, this could recognise tutorial and technical expertise along with each particular person’s private improvement. It could allow each younger individual to develop the rounded expertise they want for work and life and act as a real and trusted sign to employers and universities of their talents.

Lord Baker is Chair of the Edge Basis and was secretary of state for schooling between 1986 and 1989


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