Questioning GCSE

Posted on 23rd January 2019

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner recently expressed concern that Tory education reforms are putting state school pupils at a disadvantage compared to those educated in independent schools. More specifically, the Labour party has demanded an inquiry on the basis that state school pupils are obliged to sit GCSEs whilst many independent schools favour IGCSEs. The former are harder, claims Labour, with MP Lucy Powell arguing that independent schools are gaming the system by offering their students easy options, and insulating them against the effects of reforms whilst they are bedding in.

In a blog for HMC (the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference), Magnus Bashaarat argues that Labour is quite right to want an inquiry, but not on this premise, which he says misses the mark. He explains: “One key question concerns the relevance of GCSE level qualifications. Another is about assessment orthodoxies and, in turn, the relationship between these and issues of wellbeing amongst young people that have caused such concern in recent times.”

Magnus considers GCSEs to be inadequate for the requirements of further education and the 21st century labour market, and at the very least an inquiry might revisit issues of curriculum and assessment. He says: “Michael Gove’s ‘new’ GCSEs were all about ‘rigour’, which essentially meant doing away with coursework, and placing all the assessment in a terminal exam at the end of Year 11, with little or no scope for re-takes. But the acquisition of knowledge replaced the learning and application of skills, and inconsistent, unaccountable and sloppy marking remained the norm. This is why so many schools, including Bedales, favour IGCSE as the richer option, whilst at Bedales we went one step further in also creating Bedales Assessed Courses (BAC) for 13 non-core subjects.”

He concludes that Labour should work with schools such as Bedales in finding alternatives to the curriculum as it stands – doubly important, he argues, given recent warnings that a government ‘addiction’ to exams ramps up the risk of a mental health epidemic amongst young people.

The article can be read in full on the HMC website.

Magnus Bashaarat | HMC blog | Labour demands inquiry into how GCSE reform has benefited private schools (Guardian)