Top private schools say “narrow” GCSE exams no longer fit the purpose

The majority of teachers in public and private schools, parents and students believe that GCSEs are no longer suitable for the purpose in their current form, research has found.

According to a report written by the tall mistress at St. Paul’s Girls’ School and supported by the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) group of private schools, exams are currently too narrowly focused and fail to prepare young people for the 21st century.

In a survey of 789 school leaders, teachers, parents, students, university staff and other education workers, 94 per cent felt that GCSEs needed a complete or partial reform, with only six per cent believing that qualification was “perfect for the purpose”.

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54 percent wanted to see a reform process start immediately, while 35 percent wanted it to take place after a “period of post-pandemic consolidation”. Seven percent thought it “should not be considered at this time”.

The report argues that the current education system falls short in terms of “promoting the values, creativity and critical and problem-solving skills” that young people need. It argues that exams are more successful in serving the purpose of universities rather than “encouraging student development or motivating engagement in education”.

It also says there is an “appetite” among teachers to potentially use technology to assess students.

Sarah Fletcher, the tall mistress at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London, said teachers were aware “that the current education system is falling short”.

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“The world has changed since the curriculum was drafted,” she said. “Although the acquisition of knowledge and qualifications is understood as important, these currently limit a broader learning. More emphasis needs to be placed on curiosity and the love of learning so that young people develop the flexible, adaptable mindsets they need to upgrade and retrain later in life. ”

The report calls on the government to set up an independent review to look at the curriculum reform and assessment system.

This is happening at a time when the exam system is already under great scrutiny in the wake of the pandemic, where some are questioning whether it helps to equip young people with the right skills.

Talking to I last month, Lord Baker – the education minister who introduced GCSEs in 1988 – said that there was now “no need” for the qualification and that the UK is the “only country in the world with very demanding exams of 16”.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education said: “We want all young people to benefit from a broad and balanced curriculum that will help them thrive and reach their potential.

“Our reformed GCSEs strictly assess the knowledge that students have acquired and are in line with the expected standards in countries with high-performance education systems.

“They have been strengthened based on feedback from higher and higher education institutions and employers to ensure that young people leave school or high school prepared for the workplace and higher education.”

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