Would replacing GCSEs with a new approach benefit pupils?

2019-02-15

Replacing GCSEs and A-levels with a “holistic baccalaureate” could help to enhance academic and personal skills, the chair of the parliamentary education committee has claimed.


Senior Conservative MP Robert Halfon wants an approach that mimics the international baccalaureate, which focuses on a core curriculum and provides choices in certain subject areas.


In that approach, 18-year-old pupils must sit subjects from six subject groups, as well as core topics that focus on elements such as creativity and knowledge.


By recognising the need for academic and technical skills, Mr Halfon suggested the approach would ensure that pupils are better prepared for further education and a career in the workplace.


Since the government upped the participation age for education or skills training to 18 in 2015, a higher proportion of pupils have chosen to stay in full-time education past 16.


Addressing the topic of a 21st century education system in a speech to the Edge Foundation, Mr Halfon said that “dry rote learning for exams is not the way forward”.


Instead, he suggested that an international baccalaureate-style qualification would “act as a genuine and trusted signal to employers and universities of a young person’s rounded skills and abilities”.


He added that schools could then be measured based on the number of pupils who complete the baccalaureate and on where pupils end up in the years after leaving, with “apprenticeships explicitly counted as a gold standard destination”.


Mr Halfon suggested that the government has “the opportunity to fundamentally reimagine” the section of education that includes GCSEs.


The international baccalaureate diploma is used in 112 schools in the UK and has three core elements – theory of knowledge, CAS (creativity, activity and service) and an extended essay.


Designed for pupils aged 16-19, it also includes six main subject groups, as follows:

  • Language and literature
  • Language acquisition
  • Individuals and societies
  • Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • The arts


The general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said there is a “lot of merit” in having a single set of exams at age 18, although there would be a number of hurdles to overcome in order to make it possible.


He described GCSEs as a “product of another era” and said that taking qualifications at 18 would allow pupils to tailor them around their progression into higher education, apprenticeships or careers.


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