Exam reforms – why they matter

Elmhurst School for Boys

21st September 2012

I don’t usually address curriculum matters in this blog, but now seems like a good time! Michael Gove has announced big changes to the 16+ exam system (that’s GCSEs for most people) and there is much debate in the press. This all may seem a long way off for boys at Elmhurst, but in fact if these changes come in, they will affect all boys who are with us now.

Most people seem to agree that GCSEs have got easier to pass – or, more pupils pass with better grades than have done so in the past. Whether this is a result of the exams getting easier or pupils being better prepared for them, it doesn’t do anyone any favours for everyone’s results to be bunched together. Whatever form of exams are set at 16+, there are really only two reasons for them: to provide a basic core curriculum that the country expects pupils to have studied; and to differentiate in the results those who are better able to pass the exams, so that the results are meaningful for universities and future employers. If the exams don’t cover a core curriculum, and the results don’t separate out the better from the weaker, there is no point in them at all.

I hope that the 16+ reforms are not watered down so that they achieve little – though history would suggest that this is exactly what will happen. The best possible outcome of reform would be a proper reintroduction of technical and skills qualifications which would be of great benefit to so many pupils at 16.

At Elmhurst we are acutely conscious of the requirements of the schools to which our pupils move on. If only the framework for 16+ exams was more tailored for the requirements of universities and future employers!

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