Labour questions whether exams at 16 are necessary as participation age rises to 18

Janet Downs's picture
Labour would phase out external assessment at 16 in all subjects except English and Maths as part of a complete overhaul of school examinations. But implementation of the policy would take place only after extensive consultation – it would not be as a result of rushed reforms.

UK school pupils are among the most intensively tested in the world. Most major countries have dropped external examinations at 16 (see faqs above). Hong Kong is the latest – replacing its O and A level type exams with a single diploma. And the cost of entering pupils for GCSEs and A levels is huge – more than £600 million, so dropping GCSEs would release money to be spent elsewhere in education.

Labour leader, Ed Milliband, also announced a Technical Baccalaureate aimed at the “forgotten 50 per cent” who did not go to university.

The news that Labour is considering dropping 16+ exams has been welcomed by Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders who said now was the time for a “fundamental discussion” of such exams but warned that “any change would have to be properly planned and implemented.” Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said that removing the exam “hurdle” at 16 would “give schools the chance to offer a proper broad and balanced curriculum.”

Labour’s plans were revealed as the chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, Conservative MP Graham Stuart, warned that there was a “lack of coherent thinking” about the introduction of the English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) which have been criticized on this site. He said the impossible timetables would result in a “mess”. TES also revealed that it has “emerged” that Ofqual has dropped the requirement for the compulsory piloting of all new national qualifications.

In 2010, seven months after Michael Gove became Education Secretary, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published its assessment of the education system in particular countries in the light of the PISA results. In its analysis of the top-performing European country, Finland, the OECD concluded that Finland’s high-quality education system was because “Finland’s path to education reform and improvement has been slow and steady, proceeding gradually over the past four decades. Its current success is due to this steady progress, rather than as a consequence of highly visible innovations launched by a particular political leader or party.”

Michael Gove’s reforms are “highly visible” – none is the result of “steady progress”. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his incoherent, ill-conceived and reactionary ideas for exams at 16.

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