Skip to main content

Exclusive: Exam board leaders criticise three-year GCSE courses

It would be 'sad' if key stage 3 was only about GCSE preparation, says Pearson vice-president

News article image

It would be 'sad' if key stage 3 was only about GCSE preparation, says Pearson vice-president

Exam board leaders have raised concerns about schools that teach GCSEs over three years, instead of the two-year period they were designed for.

The comments came amid concerns that the high-stakes accountability regime is leading to key stage 3 being shortened so that schools can spend longer preparing pupils for GCSE exams.

Speaking at today’s International Festival of Learning, at West Suffolk College, Derek Richardson, vice-president of Pearson UK, said: “Having been involved in the design of the GCSEs I can absolutely say they were designed to be taught over two years. They were designed to lead off from the curriculum and appropriate study.

“That’s the design. It’s how they are implemented which is a different thing.

“I think it would be sad if that curriculum at that age got narrowed down too far, that it just became about preparation for GCSE. We need to teach the whole content and let the assessment come at the end to check that they have learned it.”

His views were echoed by Toby Salt, chief executive of the AQA exam board, who cited Ofsted’s 2015 report Key Stage 3 – The Wasted Years, which criticised the quality of teaching and leadership in the years before pupils start studying for their GCSEs.

He said: “There is a danger that we lose key stage 3, and I think that would be a loss for youngsters.”

He added: “Youngsters shouldn’t have to take three years to do a GCSE. I would be very sad if qualifications were narrowing the experience and the curriculum, but accountability frameworks do drive behaviours, and I’m well aware of that.”

Earlier this month, the annual conference of the NUT section of the National Education Union heard that some secondary schools are teaching Macbeth every year for five years because it will come up in their GCSEs.

Dame Alison Peacock, chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, told today’s festival: “I worry about schools that take five years. Their flight path that starts at the beginning of Year 7 and the youngsters who are told at the beginning of Year 7 that ‘you are probably not likely to amount to very much’, I wonder how we think that is going to motivate anybody.

“There are schools that do that.”

She too raised the “high-stakes system”, and added: “Anything that compromises quality and breadth and choice doesn’t feel democratic to me.”

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow Tes on Twitter and Instagram, and like Tes on Facebook

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you