Until GCSEs are scrapped it’s time to resurrect Keith Joseph’s original GCSE idea – grades A-G were passes – and stop talking about grades D-G being “fails”.

Janet Downs's picture
“Five GCSE passes (including English and maths) is the basic passport any child needs to be eligible for further study or a decent job. It’s the minimum a 16 year old needs to have a decent chance in life.”

Michael Gove, 7 September 2013

Has the Education Secretary at last recognised that GCSE Grades D-G are passes as Sir Keith Jospeh, the Conservative Education Secretary who introduced GCSEs, intended?  Has he accepted that these grades allow entry into elementary level jobs?

No. He made it clear in the previous sentence that GCSE C was a “pass”.

But the Office of National Statistics says Level One qualifications (GCSE D-G grades are Level One) are the entry requirements for “Elementary Occupations”.

The Government’s Skills for Life makes it clear that Level One qualifications (equivalent to GCSE D-G and Key Stage 2 Levels 5-4) are the threshold of functional literacy while Entry Level 3 (equivalent to Key Stage 2 Level 3) is the threshold of functional numeracy.

Yet the Government, employers and much of the media continue to equate “failure” with GCSE grades D-G when this is not the case. Grades D-G allow entry to elementary jobs.

Those who damn GCSE grades D-G in this way are implying that jobs which only require Level One qualifications are not “decent” jobs. Yet our economy relies on the millions of people employed in elementary occupations.

It’s true the number of jobs which only require Level One qualifications is falling. Yet two sectors buck this trend: customer service and elementary administration. It’s also true that only having Level One qualifications narrows job choices. And those jobs tend to be the worst paid and irregular. But could that be failure of a job market that values basic but essential jobs so low?

It isn’t, as Gove implies, a sign of failure in the education system when 40% of pupils don’t reach the benchmark of 5 GCSEs C+ including Maths and English. Even his own department says that pupils who enter secondary school with Level 3 make expected progress if they achieve a GCSE grade D.

His department recognises this; but Gove doesn’t. Instead he says the benchmark is “a basic level of knowledge.” This was not what Sir Keith Joseph said. His idea, which was accepted, was for:

“…a seven-point scale of grades denoted by the letters A to G. Candidates who do not demonstrate the required minimum level of performance will fail. It will grade candidates by their performance better than now, on the basis of what they themselves know and can do and without regard to the performance of others.”

The “required minimum level” was a Grade G. Only those pupils who didn’t achieve a G would fail.

So, until the day when GCSEs are scrapped to bring England in line with most developed countries where graduation is at 18, let’s reclaim Sir Keith’s original vision – only those candidates who fail to gain a Grade G are failures.

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