Why bacs may be the future

Congratulations to Brighton College and Bedales, the private schools that said this week that they are capping the number of GCSEs pupils take to nine and six respectively. Twelve A grades, 13? Today's newspapers are a reminder of the race to clock up ever more exam passes, a contest which has nothing to do with education and everything to do with competition.

Other private schools are also wriggling free from a system where exams rule. Next year, dozens of them will not feature in league tables in England because they have abandoned standard maths and English GCSEs in favour of international GCSEs, which do not count in their annual performance rankings. State schools are barred from taking international GCSEs, but at least in Wales they are free of the malign effects of too much testing and the tyranny of league tables.

The Bedales case is persuasive. Like other private schools, it is answerable to parents. If it fails to please them, it will go out of business. The implicit message to Westminster is that parents are less interested in league tables than politicians think and that they want more out of schools than a fistful of GCSE grades.

So do employers, according to this week's detailed CBI report lamenting the standard of literacy and numeracy among employees. However, pupils will grasp the skills they need for work only if they are motivated. A different daily diet in the classroom leading to different qualifications is needed.

The final evaluation report on the Welsh baccalaureate, published last week, suggests it is succeeding in providing that variety - at least at advanced level. Teachers, pupils and 70 per cent of parents favoured the new qualification's emphasis on the key skills that employers treasure.

From next month, the baccalaureate format will be piloted for the first time with 14-year-olds, at intermediate and foundation level. If it succeeds with younger pupils, then it might provide a constructive alternative to the excessive GCSE entries that private schools are increasingly rejecting as anti-educational.

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