Ditch GCSEs and make education more inclusive

There are now many voices calling for a reform of the flawed examination system. We support all the reasons Melissa Benn outlined in her well-reasoned and eloquent case for GCSEs to be dispensed with (Let’s use this exams debacle to transform England’s schools, 20 August) and would add one more: the huge costs that fall on schools’ hard-pressed budgets.

Secondary schools spent just under £2bn on GCSE entries in 2019. A GCSE subject entry costs nearly £40. And the private examination boards (collectively – no competition here) have raised costs by 17% over the last three years. We spend more on the entry than we spend on resources for students to prepare for this irrelevant examination. We have some of the best trained and academically qualified teachers in the world. Parents recognise this. The government should as well.
Tim Brighouse Former director, London Challenge
Bob Moon Emeritus professor of education, Open University

I fear that for once Melissa Benn does not take her argument to the heart of the matter. While the farrago of recent assessments of young people does illustrate some of the flaws in education (for instance, a lack of trust in teachers’ professional judgments), to focus only on exams misses the real point. There is much more at stake.

The heart of what schools do, what teachers do, should not be simply determined by children and young people’s attainment against narrowly defined criteria of knowledge, but about what they could do as citizens of the future. That is more likely to depend on their understanding and respect for each other, and their ability to collaborate rather than compete.

Today’s attention on exam results reiterates a debate founded on competition and individual ranking; with winners and losers, it is an exclusionary debate. What is needed more than ever is a curriculum that enables young people to learn about difference, diversity and civilised society. The main transformation of education should therefore have an aim of promoting inclusion.
Simon Gibbs
Professor of inclusive educational psychology and philosophy, Newcastle University

Melissa Benn is right to call for a transformation in our schools, but the main problem in successfully bringing it about will be having to rely on “here today, gone tomorrow” politicians to bring forward the best policies.

The history of the damaging changes to our education system over the last 40 years has been described many times. GCSEs were introduced to replace the outmoded segregation of CSEs and GCEs, and were intended to show what each young person “knows, understands and can do”, against elaborate sets of criteria for each subject. A noble aspiration, but it was hamstrung from the outset because the grade-inflation paranoia of successive secretaries of state led them to refuse to let go of the norm referencing of grade boundaries. This obsession continually overrides the proper recognition of a young person’s achievements in favour of a crude and unnecessary ranking of schools.

This, and other legion examples of inappropriate impositions on schools, makes it imperative to re-establish properly independent professional bodies such as the lamented Schools Council for Curriculum and Examinations, and the Assessment of Performance Unit for recognising achievement (with sampling and teacher-led moderation at its heart).
Frank Newhofer

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