Why changing GCSEs won’t change a thing

    YESTERDAY’S announcement that Michael Gove intends to replace GCSE examinations with the English baccalaureate was met with predictable posturing and point-scoring from across the political spectrum.

    Unfortunately, the shouting did nothing to improve the quality of debate. Whilst all parties seem agreed on the need to reform our education system, they also appear incapable of working together to produce a solution that will make UK education fit for the 21st century.

    Sir Ken Robinson, the education advisor who was commissioned to produce a report for the Labour government in 1999 that considered how to reform education for the coming century, has often made the point that “the current system was designed and conceived for a different age”. His report, All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education, although hailed at the time for its call for a radical overhaul of our education system, seems to have had little lasting impact on our political parties and so the debate continues to focus on how to get students to pass a series of standardised exams, rather than how best to equip them to make an effective contribution in the world beyond education.

    That world has changed considerably, since the first systems of state education were implemented. Technology has transformed economies worldwide, with the speed of change increasing rapidly throughout the second-half of the twentieth century. Since 2007, the global financial crisis has changed things even further, yet we still fail to ensure that our young people leave education with a set of employability and life skills that enable them to navigate the difficult pathways they will face.

    Those skills won’t be provided by academic studies alone and swapping one set of standardised exams for another is unlikely to do little to help those pupils already struggling to meet the accepted standard of five A* to C grades at age 16.

    Without a change in the way in which we prepare young people for life after education, in a few years time when the Ebacc has replaced GCSEs, employers will still be complaining that our young adults are leaving education without the skills they need for work and those young adults will still be failing to meet their aspirations.

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