From education to employment

GCSE controversy prompts wider exam system questions

The first time fall in GCSE grades has put the validity of the UK’s exam system into question, with growing support for alternative programmes that combine academic subjects with hands-on experience.

After the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) revealed that this year 69.4% of all subject entries earned grades A*-C, compared with 69.8% last year, many teachers complained that the papers were marked especially harshly.  It is being claimed that exam boards significantly raised the grade boundaries halfway through the year to avoid too many learners achieving at least a C grade.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, talking to BBC, stressed that any changes in grades were “the result of the independent judgements made by exam boards, entirely free from any political pressure”. Gove admitted that he did not expect such a dramatic fall in grades and added that the government would bring forward proposals to reform the GSCEs.

“We want to change them, to improve them,” he said.

Ofqual, the examinations and qualifications regulator, has announced plans to look closely over the coming days at the concerns, particularly for GCSE English.

Harsh marking is not the only issue troubling the current education system. New research from Edge, the independent educational charity, has found that many parents believe schools place too much emphasis on academic achievement while showing a minimum interest in vocational ability.

According to the report, 78% of parents would support their child if they decided to take a vocational qualification. Some 62% felt that, in today’s difficult economic climate ,a vocational qualification would be a valuable asset for their children.

However, with the government deciding to remove work-related learning (WRL) as a statutory part of the Key Stage 4 curriculum, there are not many opportunities for students to improve their vocational skills.

Jan Hodges, CEO of Edge, believes that a four-year programme of study for 14 – 18 year olds that combines both academic and work-related learning, including work experience, mock interviews, enterprise competitions and talks by employers, would be extremely useful for boosting employability.

“Technical, practical and vocational training is just as important and vital to deliver the skilled workforce we need for the future,” said Hodges.

“Parents recognise that this should be an integral part of every young person’s education – it would be helpful if the Government understood this too.”

Apostolos Kostoulas

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