2020 Spring Term 2

The know zone

  • Primary inspections
    The new Ofsted Inspection Framework has been in place since September and, so far, the emerging picture shows a somewhat mixed bag of inspection experiences in primary schools. Here, Tiffnie Harris shares her insights. More
  • Resource management
    Hayley Dunn provides a summary of a report on the Schools Resource Management Adviser (SRMA) pilot and says that while it provides useful pointers for schools, the report fails to recognise wider funding concerns. More
  • What's on offer?
    University offers have reached new levels of complexity. But is this complexity necessary or is it masking some rather opaque practices? Kevin Gilmartin explores what is really going on with university offer-making. More
  • Digital Detox
    ASCL's Online Editor Sally Jack shares some suggestions on how to manage your digital selves on social media and keep your mental health healthy. More
  • Should GCSEs be scrapped?
    Have GCSEs had their day? Should we have a lighter touch form of assessment at 16? Or do GCSEs represent an inviolable 'gold standard'? And is another upheaval of exams just too much trouble? Here ASCL members share their views. More
  • Non nobis solum
    Headteacher Catharine Darnton joined ASCL Council last September and is a member of the Funding Committee. More
  • Better left unsaid
    The relentless road to self-improvement is paved with potential unhappiness and frustration. Wouldn't it be even better if we simply settled for everyday excellence, asks Carl Smith. More
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Have GCSEs had their day? Should we have a lighter touch form of assessment at 16? Or do GCSEs represent an inviolable ‘gold standard’? And is another upheaval of exams just too much trouble? Here ASCL members share their views.

Should GCSEs be scrapped?

Establish a set of standard criteria

We’ve seen an increase in the content and challenge posed by reformed GCSEs. It seems ridiculous given the breadth and range of available grades that no one has had the courage to scrap the norm reference criteria. If the very best teachers taught every child in the very best schools and academies in the country, the pass rates and grades would remain the same, albeit that the distribution curve of marks versus grades would have the profile of a darning needle.

It is completely unacceptable that generations of children are pitted against one another and the system rigged to fail set proportions, while at the other end of the scale, 30% of more affluent parents employ private tutors. It is time that educationalists and not political ideologues exercised influence over educational measures. As a country we need to establish a set of standard criteria that represents a standard for subject knowledge and exam performance. Grade distribution would still allow differentiation.

Imagine if you can, that driving tests were set up in the same way so that only a fixed number could pass each year. There would be a whole group in our society that would never drive. Now you may think that a great thing, but each time you took lessons and performed well on your test, you failed because someone else drove better.

Why on earth do we as a society, and us as a profession, allow this nonsense to persist? Meet the required criteria and pass the exam. Your English, maths and so forth is at a standard that meets the criteria and allows you access to employment or further study. Who on earth could argue that our current system works or is fair. The fact is that some children who failed today would not have failed yesterday.

Paul Tarn
Chief Executive Officer, Delta Academies Trust, Yorkshire

Urgent reform for GCSE English

We urgently need to reform the English language and English literature GCSEs, which are currently responsible for consigning young people to the educational scrap heap at 16. Boys underachieve and sometimes fail in the language qualification because it has a heavy literary basis; they are after all asked to analyse an unseen narrative text on Paper 1. Paper 2, viewpoint writing, is a flawed paper with questions that are impenetrable for many students; the skills it actually tests are also equally questionable. Add into this the enforced study of a literature qualification whose syllabus would make even a Victorian schoolmaster baulk, is it little wonder that so many students ‘fail’ English even when we know they are highly literate? To add insult to injury, A level numbers in English are falling because even those who succeed, see little wonder and awe in the subject. It’s definitely time for radical reform. John Lovell Assistant Headteacher, South Craven School, Yorkshire

John Lovell
Assistant Headteacher, South Craven School, Yorkshire

Tweaks and quick fixes

My considered view is that they should not be scrapped. There are some quick-fixes that could make them more fit-for-purpose, but a drastic overhaul would not be welcome by teachers who are just about on-top of the new specifications and students who have been the victims of too much political reform in recent years. My suggestions for ‘tweaks’: 

  • Return to higher and foundation tier papers – a one-size-fits-all methodology does not sufficiently differentiate between Grade 1 and 9, and make the literacy requirements for ‘The Forgotten Third’ prohibitive and demoralising. 
  • There was no doubt that the old GCSE system encouraged ‘gaming’, with students sitting exams that suited the needs of performance tables and not the individual. However, the over-reliance on terminal examinations and the scrapping of coursework means that assessment objectives now measure a very narrow range of skills. Can Ofqual have a proper look at restoring non-exam based assessment?

That said, I would scrap a couple of the structural elements that envelop the GCSE curricula: 

  • EBacc – a qualification that does not exist and spoils children’s chances of opting to do subjects they enjoy. The quicker this measure is dropped the better. 
  • Progress 8 – a measure that is inherently flawed, favouring schools with high-ability intake. In my local authority, the league tables have at the bottom those schools with low-ability intake and the pseudo-selectives at the top. Dr Chris Ingate Principal, Birchwood High School, Hertfordshire

Dr Chris Ingate
Principal, Birchwood High School, Hertfordshire