Two-thirds of teachers say GCSE 'flight path' starts too early

Poll shows parents and teachers are concerned about exam pressure leaving schools offering a 'bare-bones education'

gcses, narrowed curriculum, survey, GL assessment, yougov, survey, flight path

Teachers are increasingly worried that exam pressure is forcing schools to offer a limited, bare-bones education, as they start prepping pupils at a younger age, a survey has found.

Two-thirds of teachers (65 per cent) say parents should be worried about students being moved on to a so-called ‘GCSE flight path’ too early, with almost as many parents (61 per cent) agreeing.

And the vast majority – 92 per cent of teachers and 76 per cent of parents – blame the pressure placed on schools to deliver good exam results.

In some cases, this means that schools are starting to teach a GCSE syllabus as soon as pupils arrive in Year 7 rather than the recommended Year 10.

In September, Tes revealed that some pupils are being forced to make GCSE choices in Year 7.

The survey, commissioned by GL Assessment and carried out online by YouGov, also found:

  • More than three-quarters of teachers (76 per cent) and three-fifths of parents (60 per cent) believe that schools have offered a more restricted curriculum from an earlier age over the past three years.
  • Nine-in-10 teachers think too many schools are pressuring teachers to concentrate on an exam-driven syllabus, to the exclusion of the wider curriculum.
  • 87 per cent of teachers believe that teaching a more rounded curriculum from a young age would better prepare children for later academic success, with 91 per cent believing the same for life after school.
  • Seven in 10 teachers are concerned that teaching a more restricted curriculum has a negative effect on classroom behaviour.
  • 71 per cent of teachers say a narrowed curriculum is bad for pupils who have minor learning difficulties; 72 per cent think the same about those who have switched off from school because of earlier experiences of exams.
  • 51 per cent of teachers say that student wellbeing is the issue that would concern them the most in a school that was only interested in exam results; 21 per cent cite the neglect of a child’s individual learning needs; and 17 per cent refer to the fact that too much time is spent on exam practice.

The survey also found that three-quarters of parents believe that too much of a focus on exam results might negatively affect their child’s wellbeing, and half worry that it would make school less enjoyable for their children than their own time at school.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is vital to preserve the early years of secondary education as a time when children build the firm foundations and love of subjects upon which academic success and their life chances are built.

"The government’s obsession with exam rigour is in danger of turning secondary education into a long grind towards GCSEs, as schools have to squeeze new content-heavy courses into packed timetables and jump through accountability hoops."

Stephen Tierney, chair of the Headteachers' Roundtable group, said the narrowing of the curriculum "can be a bigger problem in primary schools", with a focus on key stage 2 SATs.

He called for a radical rethink of the external accountability model, adding: "A key aspect of this would be a broadening of the curriculum in primary schools and through key stage 3, providing secure foundations – academic, personal and social – on which success in important GCSE exams and life beyond can be built.

"This approach would most benefit our disadvantaged pupils.”  

Greg Watson, chief executive of GL Assessment, said: “It cannot be right that schools feel they have no option but to offer an increasingly restricted curriculum.

"All the evidence suggests that when students are offered a broad curriculum that develops their love of learning, academic performance is increased, regardless of the exams ultimately taken.”

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