Time to mount a defence of GCSE

5th September 2003 at 01:00
I was pleased to read John Dunford's piece which made a timely defence of the great service done by GCSE since its introduction in 1986 (TES, August 15). Much of the talk of by-passing the qualification to move straight to AS-levels is as faddish as the enthusiasm to finish key stage 3 after Year 8.

For the great majority of the population, GCSE is a genuine test of achievement at 16 and is understood as a qualification by parents, employers and pupils. If there are concerns about the proliferation of A* grades when selecting the best candidates for university, the solution should be found post-16 rather than by undermining GCSE.

What Mr Dunford does not mention, though, and what does do considerable damage to the credibility of the five A* to C benchmark as a measure of school performance, is the prevalence of the GNVQ qualification, especially in information technology, which has the official equivalence of four GCSEs. The equivalence is bogus. I would doubt that anyone would claim that such a qualification requires the intellectual ability or the academic commitment required to achieve, say, GCSE A* to C grades in maths, science and French, but this is the effect of including this qualification.

Understandably, this quick fix way of improving schools' "GCSE" performance is becoming increasingly popular and as more schools take it up, their percentages rise dramatically. I would advocate the removal of these four GCSE GNVQs from the school performance statistics altogether, or at least their use of a symbol to show whether a school includes this qualification as part of its five A* to C percentage.

Without this, there is no real way of telling whether national performance at age 16 is actually improving or just being made to appear so.

Chris Healy The Dovecote Stockwell Lane Woodmancote, Cheltenham

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