Examinations - Unease over England's reformed exams spreads

5th July 2013 at 01:00
Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man may sever link to English system

Changes to GCSE and A-level qualifications in England have already proved highly controversial among teachers and unions. But they have now received a significant vote of no confidence from Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man, which are all considering dropping the qualifications.

The Crown dependencies, which are self-governing but traditionally follow the English curriculum, are seeking alternatives in Scotland, amid fears that Westminster's reforms will damage young people's prospects. Guernsey education director Alan Brown told TES that its young people could be taking Scottish Highers by 2015-16.

Mr Brown said that officials had been exploring the Scottish system since December, although the process was at an early stage. They have also looked at approaches in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. "When it appeared that the curriculum proposals were becoming more real, we realised that we had to explore other options that may be better," he said.

Guernsey delegations - including representatives from the primary, secondary, special needs and further education sectors - have twice travelled to meet with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Education Scotland and the Scottish government.

Mr Brown said that Guernsey is considering either "mirroring" Scotland or adopting a "pick and mix" of best practice from around the British Isles. He is concerned about an approach built on end-of-year exams at 16 and 18, as proposed for England. "We feel that could disadvantage a large percentage of our youngsters," he said.

The criticism comes after concerns were raised in Wales and Northern Ireland about the reform of GCSEs, which will drastically reduce coursework, introduce a new grading system and cut the number of resits permitted. Wales is not expected to adopt any of the changes to GCSEs and will retain the existing structure, content and A*-G grading system. Northern Ireland is conducting its own separate review.

As well as the broader range of assessment in Scotland, Mr Brown said he admired the seamless 3-18 approach espoused in Curriculum for Excellence, introduced in 2010-11 with the aim of tailoring education to individual student needs.

Guernsey will decide which approach to take by the end of 2013, with a view to implementation from 2015-16.

Officials from Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man discussed options at a conference last month. Isle of Man education director Martin Barrow told TES that his officials are reviewing options in light of planned changes to GCSEs and A levels.

"These include consideration of the system in place in Scotland, as well as what Wales and Northern Ireland are planning to do once their link with England disappears," he said. He stressed that the Isle of Man has not ruled out maintaining its link to the English system. A final decision will be made by summer 2014.

A spokeswoman for Jersey's education department said that concerns about English reforms had prompted officials to look at Scotland, but that the process is less advanced than in Guernsey.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, has been involved in discussions with Isle of Man officials, and said that the interest from the Crown dependencies was "a real endorsement of how our qualifications have developed, and are developing".

A Scottish government spokeswoman said that "very productive discussions" about Curriculum for Excellence had been held with Guernsey. "We share the view that having a qualification system which supports deeper learning and skills development is more effective," she added.

A spokeswoman for Westminster's Department for Education said: "Our reforms will enhance A levels and GCSEs to better prepare students for higher education. Linear exams will end an over-reliance on resits so all pupils develop a real understanding of a subject."

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