Scrap 'do-or-die' GCSE exams

Scrap ‘do-or-die’ GCSE exams: Experts want end of ‘unfair’ and ‘stressful’ tests that don’t ‘measure what’s important in pupil’s futures’ – after record grade inflation due to teacher assessments

  • Education experts have called for GCSE exams to be abolished in a report
  • Said A Levels should be based on teacher marks given for classwork and exams
  • Last month schools minister Nick Gibb said it is ‘huge mistake’ to scrap GCSEs

GCSE exams should be abolished and pupils should not be assessed by  ‘do or die’ tests which are ‘unfair’ and ‘stressful’, education experts have said.

In their report, which is due for publication later this year, the commission of experts called for GCSE exams to be scrapped and argued they ‘did not measure what is important for young people’s future’.

The panel, who will recommend a radical overhaul of the exam system, also said A Levels should instead be based on a mixture of marks given by teachers for classwork along with exams.

It comes after the former prime minister Sir John Major called for reform of the exam system and said he disliked GCSEs due to the ‘stress and strain they impose on students’.

The commission of experts will call for GCSE exams to be abolished in their report which is due to be published later this year

Louise Hayward (pictured), professor of education at the University of Glasgow, said ‘do or die’ exams are ‘stressful’ and ‘unfair’

Professor of education at the University of Glasgow, Louise Hayward, told The Times: ‘Do or die exams are stressful, unfair and they don’t measure what is important for young people’s future. 

‘We ask youngsters to sit too many exams, and they switch them off learning.

‘The case for radical change is overwhelming if we want to give young people a better future.’

Last month Sir John Major called for an overhaul to GCSEs Major and told The Times Education Commission there should be a ‘dramatic restructuring of the curriculum’.

However Schools minister Nick Gibb said it would be a ‘huge mistake’ to scrap the formal assessments at the age of 16.

In a virtual speech to the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank, Mr Gibb criticised the ‘reheated so-called progressive’ movement to abolish GCSEs that had emerged amid the pandemic. 

When asked for his response to Conservatives calling for reform, Mr Gibb said: ‘Well I respectfully disagree. Every curriculum, every exam, of course can always be improved, but the concept of having an exam across a range of subjects at the age of 16 I think is an important part of our school system.’ 

He added that many students moved to a different institution at 16, and for a ‘large minority’ of young people their GCSE exams were the last academic qualifications they took.

Students across the country recorded record GCSE grades, with some 30 per cent of entries achieving grades 7 and above

Schools minister Nick Gibb said it would be a ‘huge mistake’ to scrap the formal assessments at the age of 16

Figures show  how the proportion of students getting an A or an A* has gone from 17.8 per cent in 2000 to 44.8 per cent this year

Mr Gibb said: ‘They may go on to a very high quality vocational qualification. 

Girls extend lead over boys in top grades: Key statistics in GCSE results 

Here are the main figures in this year’s GCSE results:

  • The proportion of entries receiving the top grades is the highest on record. A total of 28.9% of entries were awarded 7/A or above, up from 26.2% in 2020.
  • Some 77.1% of entries received a 4/C grade or above – another record high, and up from 76.3% in 2020.
  • The overall rate for grades 1/G or above is 99.0%, down slightly from 99.6% in 2020.
  • Girls have extended their lead over boys in the top grades. The proportion of female entries awarded 7/A or above was 33.4%, 9.0 percentage points higher than male entries (24.4%). Last year, girls led boys by 8.0 percentage points (30.2% girls, 22.2% boys). This year’s figures are the highest on record for both girls and boys.
  • The gap at grade 4/C has narrowed for the fourth year in a row. A total of 80.6% of female entries were awarded 4/C or higher, compared with 73.6% for boys, a lead of 7.0 points. Last year the gap was 7.9 points.
  • The most popular subject this year in terms of entries was science double award, with a total of 896,138 entries, up 2.0% on 2020.
  • Maths remains the second most popular subject, with 811,135 entries, up 0.3% on 2020.
  • English was the third most popular choice, but also saw the biggest percentage fall in entries of any major subject, down by 2.4% from 799,473 to 780,231.
  • Spanish saw the biggest percentage rise in entries of any major subject, jumping by 4.7% from 109,594 to 114,795.
  • Overall there were 5,745,945 GCSE entries, up slightly (0.9%) on last year’s figure of 5,692,464.
  • A total of 3,606 16-year-olds in England taking at least seven GCSEs achieved a grade 9 in all their 9-to-1 graded subjects. This is up from 2,645 in 2020.

‘But in five to 10 years time, they may decide to change that vocation to something else and then they will need to be able to demonstrate to a future employer or future college that they have academic achievements when they were at school.’

He added: ‘I think it would be a huge mistake to abolish the tried and tested GCSEs.’

The schools minister also said the growing attainment gap between privileged and poorer children is ‘not acceptable’ and admitted the pandemic had ‘amplified those inequalities’.

This week students across the country hit record grades, with some 30 per cent of entries achieving grades 7 and above – equivalent to A and A* – compared with 27.5 per cent in 2020 and 22 per cent in 2019.   

Traditional A*-G grades were replaced with a 9-1 system amid reforms which happened in three stages between 2017 and 2019, with 9 now the highest. A 4 is roughly a C grade, and a 7 broadly equivalent to an A. 

According to figures from Ofqual, the number of 16-year-old students in England who entered seven or more GCSEs and received a 9 – the highest grade under the numerical grading system – in all subjects has risen.

Some 3,606 students in England received straight 9s, compared with 2,645 in 2020 and 837 in 2019.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson defended the results, saying they had ‘value’ despite the grade inflation.

He said: ‘Students and their teachers should feel immensely proud of what they have achieved. I want to be clear – this is a moment to celebrate our young people and their futures.’ 

Following the record-breaking results, a government source said a new grade 10 was ‘possible’ and had not been ‘ruled out’. 

They added: ‘It’s a discussion that’s yet to be formally framed, but there will be conversations about changing the grading this autumn.’ 

Meanwhile nearly half of A Level entries were awarded an A or A* grade this summer – up by 6.3 percentage points on last year when 38.5 per cent achieved the top grades.

Ofqual said 6.9 per cent of students in England were awarded three A*s this year compared with 4.3 per cent in 2020 and 1.6 per cent in 2019 – the last time they sat exams – as critics warned the education system had descended into the ‘wild west of grading’.

The total number of students accepted on to UK degree courses also rose by five per cent on the same point last year, with 435,430 taking up places so far, according to initial Ucas figures.

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