'Selection by failure simply must go'

21st November 1997 at 00:00
IF A GENUINE curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds develops in our schools, Dr John Moore, headteacher of King's School, Worcester, believes that GCSE examinations will, in time, wither away.

"I believe there is no other country in the European Union that finds it necessary to have a huge battery of tests at the age of 16," he says. "They progress smoothly towards 18 or 19 down their various tracks, whether it be the French baccalaureat or the different examinations in Germany, Holland or Belgium. I cannot see why, if they don't need it, we need it."

Given the Government's targets that everyone should stay in education and training until at least the age of 18, Dr Moore says, we no longer need terminal examinations at 16.

The relaunched record of achievements could be used to demonstrate that pupils have achieved a reasonably broad education by, for example, key stage 4 level, and schools should be trusted to say that pupils have achieved an acceptable level in a certain number of subjects. If necessary there could be a much smaller number of internally assessed, externally moderated tests at this stage, says Dr Moore.

"We have a massive apparatus of inspection to ensure that the curriculum is being delivered and properly taught. I do not see the need for the GCSE examinations."

Dr Moore believes that the curriculum narrows down too suddenly from nine or ten subjects to three at A-level. The GCSE, for all its virtues, he thinks, prepares students less well for specialising in the sixth form than O-levels did. He would like to see a more measured tapering off of the curriculum at 16 In the wake of the Dearing Report on 16 to 19 education, he is hoping for significantly more breadth in Year 12. This might involve pupils doing five subjects before dropping to two or three at A-level standard in Year 13. The five subjects could be awarded certificates throughthe proposed national certificate.

He does not believe that examinations have to be taken at set ages. "There is no magic about taking GCSE at 16 and there's no magic about taking A-levels two years later. I would happily see age-relatedness go and people able to take examinations when they are ready.

"We must get away from selection by failure, which has been the basis of education for 100 years. You set hard exams and those who do not jump the hurdles stop at that point."

If you believe in lifelong learning, he says, the system must be flexible enough to allow people to take exams when they are ready, building up certification along the way.

"If a genuine 14-19 continuum containing GCSEs, GNVQs and the International Baccalaureate develops, I believe that whether it is abolished or not, the GCSE will just quietly wither away."

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