What, in all seriousness, is the point of getting 11 A*s or, as they’re now called, Grade 9s at GCSE?
Yes it’s nice for parents to brag to their friends, schools feel better about the pupils they turn out, and I suppose there is a sense of achievement among children.
But then what? Youngsters going on to higher education take three or four A levels max or different courses. So what happens to the subjects they’ve studied for five years that are dropped, never to be picked up again?
There’s a growing backlash against GCSEs which was introduced when I was in the third year, now year nine, of secondary school. Before then, more able children did O levels, those who struggled did CSEs.
But increasingly, questions are being asked about their purpose.
This week, headteachers from several private schools have branded them unfit for purpose.
Some schools like Bedales, Lily Allen’s alma mater, only make pupils take five subjects and the rest of the time is spent studying the school’s own courses or extra GCSEs if they want.
Rose Hardy, head of Haberdashers’ Aske in Herts thinks their days are numbered calling them a “terrible treadmill”.
And the backlash isn’t only in private schools.
In Wales, which is reviewing exams taken at 16, the Future Generations Commissioner has called for them to be axed because she says “exam obsession” was not giving young people the skills they need for the future.
GCSEs were perfect for people like me, “girly swots” who loved school and couldn’t get enough of exams.
They’re not so great for children like my son who, while perfectly capable of doing well, finds school a chore and would rather spend his time out of school with friends or on Snapchat.
He’s currently revising for his mock exams. In biology, for example, he’s genning up on cell structure and the function of mitochondria and ribosomes.
I get that it’s important, and again I loved biology, but what do I say when he asks what the point is of him learning all this stuff anyway?
Of course children should be tested at the end of their school life. But I think it would be better for those children who want to take loads of exams to do so. Others should be able to take five or six and spend the rest of their time learning skills and vocations that could actually be useful in later life.
The answer to children doing badly in school isn’t – as Michael Gove did as Education Secretary – to make exams even harder, it’s to make schools places where they’ll learn more than just the three Rs.
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