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Is it fair to limit young people’s life choices based on a set of exams taken at 16?

Discussion in 'Education news' started by TES_Rosaline, Jul 5, 2018.

  1. TES_Rosaline

    TES_Rosaline Administrator Staff Member

    The opportunities to progress are often determined by the qualifications young people achieve at the age of 16, but is this really the best time to set a person’s future and do exams really provide an equal chance for everyone to realise their potential?

    ‘Decisions about Level 3 study are driven by achievement in key stage 4, and there is a tiered system, which still reflects attitudes of many regarding what constitutes the "best" in education…Do well enough (grade 8 and above) in 9 or more GCSE’s including facilitating subjects to have access to A levels and you might have a shot at a Russell Group University, even Oxbridge. Do less well, but perhaps have a decent suite of 6 to 8 GCSEs at or above a grade 6 and you can go onto "less demanding" A levels and apply to one of the more selective universities.

    Achieve 5 GCSEs at grades 4 or 5 and you’re probably looking at an applied general qualification (such as Btec) and it may well be applications to recruiting universities. If you don’t achieve 5 GCSEs, particularly if either English or maths is below a grade 4 and it’s a Level 2 qualification with a resit (or two) attached and progression onto a Level 3 applied general qualification (AGQ)…I worry about the life choices presented to young people based on a set of exams taken at 16. Is this really the point at which to fix their future?’

    Kirsti Lord is deputy chief executive at the Association of Colleges

    What are your views on questions raised by Kirsti Lord?

  2. blazer

    blazer Star commenter

    Everyone learns at a different rate and these rates may change during a lifetime. What is actually needed is a variety of routes through education/work so that everyone has the chance to progress at a rate appropriate for them. We used to have something like this when I was in secondary school (late 80s) but these days things seems to have narrowed mostly, in my opinion, in an attempt to have some sort of unified system that everyone can access. Is it true that their future is fixed? Is is not possible for someone with poor GCSE results to carry on learning and progressing and being successful?
  3. bessiesmith

    bessiesmith Occasional commenter

    Things are changing. The apprenticeship route is becoming more popular and in many cases, the sixth formers in our school are considering it superior to university. Indeed, we have quite a number of ex-pupils who have gone on to an apprenticeship (one of last year's students started on £18K) which has included paying for a foundation degree and will go on to fund a full degree course. Salary, work experience, no-fee degree - why would you bother with Oxbridge?

    I'm aware that current statistics demonstrate that higher qualifications are linked to higher lifetime earnings - but I also wonder how much the link is causal or correlation. (I.e. people with better qualifications tend to have more affluent, better connected parents who can help them get a foot-up the career ladder).

    The point about students with poor qualifications having reduced opportunities is hard to avoid. Employers don't want staff with poor levels of literacy, numeracy and in some cases, a poor work ethic. There are also later opportunities to retake these qualifications at college if students regret not doing better the first time round.
    Pomza, agathamorse and TCSC47 like this.
  4. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    The vast majority of young people taking GCSEs have been in education for 11+ years, and my experience is that they provide a reasonable snapshot of the ability of kids to learn.
    What troubles me more than GCSE being used in a fixed learning mindset is the way that GCSE has been made harder while positive alternatives have been cut back.

    Agreed. Are the self proclaimed "top" universities actually the best place for someone who's moved on in learning in their late teens or beyond? This is meant as a question for debate rather than a rhetorical gesture. The truth is that I don't know.

    Adult education has just closed up in my small rural town. Funding changes have made it uneconomic for the local school to continue to provide it.
    agathamorse, blazer and TCSC47 like this.
  5. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Lead commenter

    The problem is that we use education to sort out the pecking order of our youth for the benefit of employers. I didn't really want that to have been my job. I wanted to EDUCATE the children in front of me. However, that said, I can not think of an alternative apart perhaps from prospective employers running their own sets of employment exams.. They want to dump the responsibility on us for all sorts of things right down to child care. Time to dump something back?
  6. elder_cat

    elder_cat Established commenter

    In days gone by, many people did this, and I was one of them. You messed about at school. You went into the workplace, and bumbled around a bit. Then at some point in your life, you decided you wanted more, and made the decision to go to what used to be referred to as 'Night School'. It was hard work fitting it around your exisiting commitments, and you had to pay for it yourself. Both of which served to change your view of the value of education in general. How successful you were in clawing your way up the ladder, depended on your circumstances at the time you made the decision to change. I was fortunate in being in a position where I was able to go on to University. It was touch and go, and a constant battle with finances, but I managed to get through it. Many people's circumstances will not allow them to do that. I think most peoples' life choices are unavoidably limited, by the combination of their performance at school, and their current situation.
  7. maggie m

    maggie m Established commenter

    And of course in days long gone people left school simply out of economic necessity. My father left school before taking exams but got an engineering apprenticeship. He went to night school eventually got an HNC, management qualifications and learned to speak passable German. This was largely paid for by his employer. No expectation he would arrive fully trained.
    agathamorse and blazer like this.
  8. magic surf bus

    magic surf bus Star commenter

    My higher education options c.1977 were limited by a) not having 'O' Level French and b) messing up my 'A' Levels, but since then I've been able to leap from subject to subject more or less as I pleased. The career and job paths I've followed bear little resemblance to the qualifications I gained at 16, and that was over 40 years ago. There are far more opportunities available now than there were back then.
    agathamorse likes this.
  9. drvs

    drvs Star commenter

    This argument requires us to buy into the idea that life choices are limited by what happens at age 16. They aren't. Adults finding ambition can access any level of education at any age in the modern era.
  10. hammie

    hammie Lead commenter

    Correct. In the same way that the 11+ was supposed to limit life opportunities and didn't unless you let either of them. Same as families who have opted to live on benefits have the opportunities to get out and up but often don't.
    border_walker, drvs and Pomza like this.
  11. install

    install Star commenter

    A fairer way might be to take the results of Exams from 11 through to 16, rather than just at 16. So 20percent of exams are done at the end of each year, from Yr7 through to Yr11.:cool:
  12. hammie

    hammie Lead commenter

    trouble with exam results year on year (10-18?) being stored is that the youngsters (and teachers) would then be under more pressure for longer than just about any adult would be.
  13. blueskydreaming

    blueskydreaming Lead commenter

    We are lucky in the UK to have opportunities that are not available in some other countries, and which do help to level the playing field, if we choose to strive for them - e.g. student loans, distance learning, adult education, career development loans... Not to mention employment/housing benefits and the NHS (for now!). They do not have these things in China, where I currently work.

    Having said that, I'd like to see more educational routes and opportunities available in the UK, for everyone.
  14. sabrinakat

    sabrinakat Star commenter

    I was very lucky in the US system that I could explore options both in high school and at university, eg. you have to take English, Maths, History, Science, Art/Music, etc over 4 years in high school and at least, your 1st year at university (in an Arts programme). I was an ok student in high school, went to a respectable university (NYU) and developed a passion for Classics - going to Oxbridge, then a PhD.

    I was insecure at Oxford in that those around me had studied the subject for years at GCSE and A-level, but did well ultimately. Had I been under the British system, though, I don't think that I would have the freedom and luxury to explore various subjects. As a secondary school teacher at a girls independent and assisting in Oxbridge preparation, I also strongly encourage gap years and less traditional routes as well.

    My grandfather put himself through night school in the 1930s after his own father died (in the US); it was never an option not to go to some sort of higher education but it could mean part-time, vocational, etc.
    agathamorse likes this.
  15. foxtail3

    foxtail3 Star commenter

    The premise of the thread title is untrue, in my opinion.

    Choices for anyone can be limited by circumstances. As has been demonstrated upthread, people are creative about their routes towards the opportunities they wish to take. If motivated, the chances are there.
    blazer likes this.
  16. Jenkibubble

    Jenkibubble Occasional commenter

    Whilst I accept your point to a degree , surely allowing a person to study a subject at A level (which are often a lot deeper and more complex ) when they've struggled at GCSE level , is sensible !
    I'm not too familiar with further education ,as my own children are ks3 age , but I believe many places allow students to study A levels alongside retakes don't they?

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