Thursday, 20 September 2012

Much Ado about GCSEs

When I want to secondary school in 1949 the boys aged 16+ , in what was rather curiously called the Upper Fifth, were still studying  for  their School Certificate.  This was a school leaving certificate and to obtain one pupils had to pass in, I think, at least five subjects, which included English and Mathematics, although I feel the pass mark was only 35% in each subject.  Many boys, possibly the majority, left  school a this stage  to go into business, or train as bankers, solicitors, accountant, architects, or other professions.Those intending to enter higher education remained in the Sixth Form to take the Higher School Certificate.

Whilst I was still in the lower school this system was replaced by the General Certificate of Education, the GCE, usually taken at 16+ (O-level) and  18+, ( A-level). I remember some employers were very sniffy abut the GCE O-level because it was possible to obtain it in only one subject, whereas in their day passes in a least five had to be achieved.  The original pass mark was 40%, but this moved up to 45% the year I took the exam, much to the distress of one of my friends, who obtained 40% in at least one of his subjects.  However, he went on to make a pretty substantial fortune, though I believe he subsequently lost it.

When I started teaching, in one of the now much derided secondary modern schools, which had six streams, the top stream studied for O-levels and and the middle streams  for  a hotchpotch of qualifications, some awarded by the highly respected Royal Society of Arts.  The lower streams just studied.  In the mid 60s the "hotchpotch" was replaced by the Certificate of Secondary Education, or CSE, some versions of  which placed much more emphasis on course work than did the GCE.  There was an overlap in that a top grade in CSE was regarded as equivalent to an O-level

By this time the selection of primary school pupils for grammar of secondary modern schools at the age of 11+ had been abolished in most areas but the division of pupils into those taking GCE and those taking CSE meant hat we were still separating our pupils into sheep and goats.  So the two examinations were sensibly merged in 1985 into the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE.)

As I've pointed out in an earlier post, the continuing need for a nationally organised and validated  examination at16+ when everyone, academic or not, is now required to remain in some form of eduction or training until 18, is highly questionable.  There is certainly no need to rip up the whole system,  denigrate the achievements of pupils over the last decades by questioning the validity of their qualification,  and introduce something entirely new  with the pretentious and inappropriate name of  EBacc when a bit of tinkering  to iron out problems in the existing system is all that is required.

What is appalling is that this country has several dozen internationally respected universities, most with a department of education staffed by professors who know what they're talking about and  researchers who base their opinions on actual evidence, not to mention a a vast army of experienced teachers and examiners. These have hardly been consulted.  Thus the schooling and qualifications of the young for the next twenty years is to be based on a political fix,  not mentioned in the election and certainly not in the coalition agreement,  but cobbled together by an opinionated secretary of state who seems more interested in stamping his name, however ignobly, on posterity, (why else give every school a King James Bible inscribed with a personal message from yourself?) than in the genuine interests of the young.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed - examining is a difficult business, but it should be in professional not political hands. What a ridiculous name -ebacc.
    This is like Gove's aim to teach modern languages in primary schools. It was tried and failed 30 years ago, largely due to timetabling constraints and the lack of skilled teachers.
    Gove is like the Bourbons - he has learnt tothing and forgotten nothing. And what is to happpen the unacademic majority?