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Maligned exam is now fighting for its life

Last week's A-level battle may have resulted in a score draw. But this week saw far more breaches in the GCSE's defences.

"Sought-after" independent schools sniffed at their uselessness, with the Daily Mail reporting that "more schools may drop 'easy' GCSEs".

There was then a twin-pronged offensive from qualifications chiefs and employers' leaders.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum authority, told Monday's Times that 100,000 youngsters should be spending their time on vocational study: "Send pupils to work, schools told". The suggestion was that GCSEs were no use to them.

Other papers highlighted a Confederation of British Industry survey claiming that one in three companies was giving teenagers remedial literacy and numeracy training: "High cost of 'dunce' kids", said the Sun.

To guide us through the crisis, Radio 4's Today programme pitted the new National Union of Teachers general secretary Steve Sinnott against Digby Jones, director-general of the CBI.

Sad to report, Mr Sinnott had not been paying attention in media studies.

He gave Mr Jones an easy victory despite the flimsiness of his research (a survey of 500 firms due out in October, but cherry-picked for a quick August headline).

Mr Sinnott insisted he wanted to "work with employers" but blamed them for leaving young people on giros (in the 1980s, presumably).

He sounded defensive: "I'm surprised we're not blaming teachers for Paula Radcliffe..." He then tied himself in statistical knots. Neither Mr Sinnott nor the listener knew what point he was trying to make.

By contrast, Mr Jones was clear and graceful. He conceded that more youngsters were doing better, and accepted that average results were up.

All his members wanted, he insisted, was kids "with their heads up, well turned out and able to read, write and count".

An intensive media training session is overdue at the NUT's Hamilton House headquarters.

But there was some good news. More bright youngsters are taking their GCSEs early, the Independent reported. They clearly still think the exam is worth something.

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