Curbing early exam entry will cheat our students

In my 18 years in education I have seen only fast-paced change. This is as it should be, because the lives and potential of, and opportunities for, our young people are too important for the system not to be constantly evolving. Yet the game of educational political football is beginning to feel like an oppressive endurance sport where only some teams can win.

Not that long ago, the mantra was "stage not age". Personalisation was valued and students were treated as individuals by a system that nurtured their talents and developed their skills.

In my secondary - where about 40 students a year join at age 11 unable to read - our teachers work with a diligence, passion, skill and dedication that humbles me. Personalisation is important in schools where students do not always arrive with a deep sense of purpose, where aspiration needs to be taught alongside numeracy and literacy. Our young people need and deserve the very best to redress the imbalances in their lives.

I welcomed the announcement that any student not achieving grade C in English and maths at GCSE would continue studying those subjects beyond the age of 16: they are too important to allow haves and have-nots. But the revelations leaked contemptuously to the press about changes to early entry for GCSEs make a mockery of that importance. The vocabulary being used about schools cheating is disgraceful. It is ridiculous to suggest that post-16 exam resits are the sign of a system married to key skills, yet resits at 16 are immoral gaming of that same system. I have no patience with stories of students being entered eight times for maths; that is clearly wrong. But so is preventing schools from giving their students the best possible chance of success.

"Stage not age" to "cheating and gaming" in one swift move: the game of political football is becoming deeply damaging. Our young people deserve better than this and I am thankful every day that the teachers at our school set out to achieve that, despite all the blustering around them.

Dawn Parkinson, Deputy headteacher, Leicester.

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