Should GCSEs have an overhaul?


The coronavirus pandemic should pave the way for an overhaul of England’s secondary education system, a think tank has suggested.

A report from EDSK, an education think tank focused on ensuring that pupils can succeed, added that GCSEs could ultimately be replaced by computer-based assessments within five years.

According to the organisation’s director Tom Richmond, there is a “rare opportunity to consider how we can do things better in future”.

The report, titled Re-assessing the future, said that raising the participation age for education from 16 to 18 has “prompted serious questions about whether academic-style examinations for all students at age 16 are still fit for purpose”.

Rethinking GCSEs

Mr Richmond, a former advisor to Nicky Morgan and Michael Gove, added that “low-stakes digital assessments” at the age of 15 could act as a guide as pupils move through the education system.

He suggested that such assessments would ensure that pupils have the key knowledge and understanding required while reducing the financial burden for schools and cutting workloads for teaching staff.

EDSK has estimated that delivering GCSEs costs around £52,500 per school on average and approaching £200 million in total across England.

The report also points to a decline in the average number of subjects being taken at Key Stage 4 following the introduction of EBacc and Progress 8 measures, which stood at 7.7 in 2019, having fallen from 11.2 in 2010-11.

Restructuring proposals

In order to accommodate the new system, the EDSK report recommends that secondary education should split, with an initial phase covering pupils aged from 11-15, with a further phase for those aged 15-18.

The plans would also include the extension of National Curriculum subject entitlements, which would be made mandatory for all schools in England.

Pupils would take online assessments at the end of phase one, with a Lower Secondary Certificate providing them with a percentage mark based on the percentage of pupils who scored lower than they did.

Such an approach would require secondary schools to either cut a year group or expand to provide education to those aged 11-18.

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