Heads reacted wearily when shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt suggested we downplay exams at 16 and move towards graduation at 18. As I explained in Schools Week, schools are already punch drunk from constant changes and reforms without being faced with another upheaval.
But graduation at 18 could be achieved without massive disruption by incorporating what is already in place. My four points, which are explained more fully in the article, are these:
1 Uncouple what is taught from what is examined.
2 Reduce the number of exams taken at 16.
3 Exams taken at 16 should be used to decided post-16 progression and not used to judge schools.
4 Graduation at 18 should be achieved by multiple routes.
There’s a danger, however, in Hunt’s call for a 14-19 curriculum. Children should be entitled to a broad, balanced curriculum until 16. This is what happens in most parts of the developed world where lower secondary ends at 15/16 and upper secondary comprises two years up to 18/19. A 14/19 curriculum assumes pupils will drop subjects at 14. The drawbacks of early specialisation would be enshrined in this extended upper secondary phase.
The future of exams in England should not be to throw out what is already present but to allow pupils and their schools to choose from a wide range of qualifications most of which already exist.
Reform doesn’t have to be radical but it can be inspirational.