O Level CertificateWere there whoops of delight and plenty of air punches thrown or did a grey cloud of gloom descend on your house on 25 August?

I speak of course of the GCSE results; those exams that the media prattle on about every year so those children who are already wound up and nervous become even more het up and those who are nonplussed either way, continue to ignore the stress and carry on doing what they want, which might be revision, gaming or some other non-academic activity. Either way, the hype that now permanently surrounds this adolescent milestone serves no purpose other than to fill a slow news day.


But what about the exams themselves? Given their importance you would think there would be a fixed and dependable system that was immune from the follies of the minister in charge. You couldn’t be more wrong; from 1951 the GCE ‘O’ (ordinary) and ‘A’ (advanced) levels were introduced (replacing the school certificate) but they were taken mostly by grammar and private school pupils with most state educated children leaving school without qualification. Then in 1965 the CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) came along to help those children who struggled to reach O level standard so everyone left school with graded exams marks.

O levels were given letter grades of A, B, C etc. with A being the top mark and CSEs numbers with 1 being the top mark; a grade 1 in CSE was said to be the equivalent of a grade C in O level.

A simple straight forward approach that everyone understood, including employers.

Then in 1988 the whole system was replaced with GCSEs homogenising the two exam types; some argued it gave everyone a level playing field while others disagreed saying it was dumbing down a highly regarded body of education.


But 2016 was the last year for this method as School Standards Minister Nick Gibb reinvents the wheel once more and puts his mark on our education system. Exams are going to move away from course work based results (reverting to the O level style) and there will be a new grading classification of 1 – 9; 1 being the lowest mark, so as the boards change the pass mark which they do each year, they can increase the grade to 10 and beyond.

On top of that there will be a new way of assessing performance with ‘Progress 8’ that measures progress but not through results. I can’t help but wonder how they will do that given the whole point of school was to test understanding and the only way to test understanding is, well, to test it. In any case, who will decide on this arbitrary system of progress?

So where does this mess leave the children when it comes to deciding on their further education and just as important, where does it leave employers when it comes to deciding if a prospective employee is educationally up to scratch; picture the scene – the interviewer is faced with a CV that has an A* which is a top mark but there is another candidate with a Grade 1 which is a low mark but perhaps one candidate ‘progressed’ better than the other.

It’s nothing short of a shambles; rather than seeing it as an opportunity to make their mark during their short reign, the education ministers should stop tinkering with our education system and refine and improve existing methods particularly the marking that is always a bone of contention.

By the constant ministerial interference the value of exams is being eroded and degraded and it is a gross disservice to our children who are being used as guinea pigs to the personal satisfaction of ministers who come and go at the whim of whoever’s in charge.

I can but hope that the academisation of our schools will lead to more power being given to headteachers and that they will put a stop to the confusion and adopt the IGCSE (International GCSE), at least then there would be some consistency and certainty.

But Labour has prohibited state schools from using IGCSE’s for the key subjects fearing it will ‘undermine’ the domestic version, which given their relentless interference is somewhat ironic.

Heaven forbid the schools should ensure their pupils are equipped with the best opportunities; far better governments use our school children as their political football.

A Summer of Discontent
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