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‘The focus on GCSEs is leaving a generation with none of the day-to-day attributes needed to succeed’

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Charlie Rigby, chair of the Challenger Multi-Academy Trust, a Department for Education-approved academy-sponsor, writes:

Tomorrow, thousands of children nationwide will make the nervous journey into school to pick up their GCSE results, which, for some, will determine their future.

Despite their importance, results alone provide a narrow and confusing measure of success with no real consideration of the overall benefits to children of their time at school. Under Michael Gove, the system has been increasingly exam-heavy, prescriptive and extremely maths and English-focussed, but under new education secretary Nicky Morgan, might there be the opportunity to take an approach that not only provides a strong academic grounding but also instils character and values in students?

This would be an opportunity to empower and trust heads to make decisions they believe will benefit children most, to make the curriculum broader, less prescriptive and complementary to in-class learning with activities that encourage communication and shared experience, which in turn instils life values and reinforces our role in society.

Academic achievement is and always will be important. But there is far too narrow a focus on test results, leaving a generation of children attempting to enter the working world with none of the day-to-day attributes needed to succeed. They need a context outside of the classroom to learn different, non-academic and life skills. 

Between now and the election there is an opportunity to build and consolidate activities both inside and outside the classroom, increasing community involvement and encouraging schools to work together. With so much recent focus on results, competition between schools has intensified at the expense of collaboration, yet it would benefit all students if schools could work together to foster a more exciting spirit of competition through sport and musical events.

I would expect GCSE results this year to remain steady, or perhaps even to fall a little, and this could have a serious effect on poorly performing schools, which will immediately come under substantial pressure. Under these circumstance it is difficult to have any focus other than improving exam results in as fast as possible, but I would implore these schools to attempt to offer as much for their students outside of the classroom as in.

I truly believe that if young people embrace challenges – learning a new sport, musical instrument or attempting an extra foreign language – in the long-term, they can expect excellence elsewhere. All teach failure, encourage resilience and result in the ultimately rewarding feeling of mastering something. We are a cautious nation that shuns failure, yet I believe it is essential that children learn what failure looks and feels like and, more importantly, experience the joy of overcoming a setback, one of life’s great lessons.

Regardless of what tomorrow’s GCSE results hold, I would hope we will soon see a rise in extracurricular activities as we look to build a more rounded and enthused generation of your people.

Related links:

The TES' extensive coverage of GCSE results

Heads publish their own league tables to wrestle back control




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