I wondered what others' thoughts were on the recently leaked news that Michael Gove is considering scrapping GCSEs and moving back to something akin to the old O level / CSE split.
I am personally in two minds about it. I can see the merits of the argument that CSEs were always seen automatically as the "inferior" qualification, and that dividing children according to which qualification they were due to be sitting could therefore prejudice their chances in later life. But I can't help feeling (based on what I have seen in my own children's education so far plus general experience with friends and family) that GCSEs simply aren't working, and that one of the problems with it may be that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to exam courses.
When I was going through school [back in the mists of the 1980s], our local exam board operated what was called a "Common Syllabus" for some subjects, and in my view it worked rather well. Basically, everyone who was doing - say - Geography was taught from the same syllabus. The exam had 3 papers (numbered 1, 2 and 3). Everyone took paper 2. In addition, the more able took paper 3; the less able took paper 1. These two papers covered the same topics, but the questions were harder on paper 3, and the degree of detailed knowledge required was higher. In classes, the teacher could simply say in relation to a particular point in a discussion of a topic that "only those doing paper 3 really need to know this", so you didn't need to stream classes if it was difficult to do so. The outcome of the exam was that everyone who passed got both an O level AND a CSE qualification. However, if you did papers 1 and 2, the highest you could get was a Grade C at O level (and a Grade 1 at CSE).
Obviously, I was going through that as a pupil rather than a teacher, but looking at it now, I think it had a lot of positives:
- as with GCSE, everyone got the same kind of qualification, so there wasn't the problem of the "two-tier" system under which CSEs got looked down on automatically, even though a Grade 1 CSE was the same in theory as a Grade C at O level
- in a small school (as mine was) it enabled less popular subjects to be viable numerically, because you could do mixed ability classes more successfully, since you weren't trying to teach two different syllabi
- for kids who were somewhere in the middle of the ability range, there wasn't the need to decide at the outset whether they were doing paper 1 or paper 3, so that decision could be left until the point of exam entry [possibly later].
It seems to me like the above might be a good model, if they are going to change things [anyone got Michael Gove's number? ]
I'd be interested to hear what others think.