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What is the purpose of the GCSE?

Discussion in 'Education news' started by elder_cat, Feb 4, 2018.

  1. elder_cat

    elder_cat Established commenter

    I have just been reading the article "Student view: 'The new GCSEs put those with learning difficulties at a disadvantage'".


    I understand how someone with learning difficulties might be less than happy with the way the GCSE assessment system works, given their own specific difficulties, but I am left somewhat confused as to what exactly the GCSE assessment system is meant to measure.

    "In the new GCSEs, everything is based on exams. Coursework has been eliminated. I feel this favours more academic students and tests short-term memory, rather than effort or commitment. And it penalises pupils with conditions such as ADHD, which make it difficult for them to sit still and concentrate in exams."

    Is the GCSE meant to be an assessment of a student's effort and commitment, or is it simply more of a test of memory and academic ability within a controlled environment? If it is the latter, then presumably this is intended to give some sort of indication of the student's ability to apply those skills in the workplace. Without wishing to offend anyone, I would suggest that there are probably quite a few occupations which might not be considered suitable for someone suffering with ADHD, who finds it difficult to sit still and concentrate.

    "The new English language GCSE exam now devotes 20 per cent of the marks to “technical accuracy” (accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar), something that most people with dyslexia and dyspraxia find difficult. In addition, you are expected to remember lots of poems and quotes from texts. Anyone would find this tricky, but for someone with a learning difficulty, it is even more challenging."

    So if the GCSE Eng Lang is not meant to test spelling, punctuation and grammar, what exactly is it meant to test?

    "There have been efforts to help those with learning difficulties with the exam process. For example, some might be allowed their own room, a reader, extra time or a scribe. This shows that not everything is hopeless, but there is still a long way to go to redress the balance."

    Again, I am having some difficulty understanding what exactly people want here. I could be wrong, but I have never heard of a potential employer being willing to take someone on to do a job, on the basis that they will get "their own room, a reader, extra time or a scribe".

    "We must change this competitive society we live in, which values people for their ability to pass exams, instead of hard work, commitment and effort."

    A lovely sentiment, but in the real world I see little evidence that this is likely to happen in the cut-throat environment of business and commerce.

    So my question really is:

    "Is the present system of assessment in schools unfair, does it need to be changed, and if so, how should it be changed?"
    Rott Weiler and Oscillatingass like this.
  2. Vince_Ulam

    Vince_Ulam Star commenter

    A combination of these.

    It's fair enough.
  3. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    I have taught more English GCSE specifications over the past twenty years than I have had credit cards. They keep altering and reforming. I feel that, in my own subject, a 25% coursework allocation on Language only was the ideal. You need the Language more for A level and post sixteen transitions. Thing was, it was abused and cheating did happen. Controlled assessments generated stupid amounts of work but they did enable the weakest and those with educational needs to shine. Then Gove waddled along. I should have started worrying when he dismissed Harper Lee’s masterpiece ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ as not to be taught in schools. The GCSEs nowadays have good content, especially AQA and Edexcel, but the closed text format of the Lit and stupid markweightings and questions of the Language make it really hard. It is discriminating against kids who struggle to write fast. A shocking amount of academies are refusing extra exam time to kids I coach who are clearly suffering from Dysgraphia, ADHD...because ‘they weren’t assessed in Year seven so they are not elliblie for extra time now.’ This is a national disgrace. If you force kids to sit full exam style GCSEs, the SEN assessments and statements, especially for new arrivals or ESOL students, must be excellent. It’s not. So for many students, GCSE English is rote learning quotations and contexts and hoping they scrape through the Language and cover all the tasks in time. Meanwhile,IGCSE is elistist, dislocated from British cultural identity as it’s internationally themed, plus its Language course is stiflingly dull. All in all, inspiring. I don’t really know what they think their courses are meant to achieve. But if they rejig it again, I reckon all the remaining teachers will quit!
    peter12171 and elder_cat like this.
  4. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

  5. David Getling

    David Getling Senior commenter

    As far as I'm concerned GCSE and IGCSE is simply a method of separating the sheep from the goats. One uses the results to determine who is worthy to attend the best schools for their A-level, and what A-levels they can take. Because, if we are honest, a clever adult could probably tackle most of them with just a week's intensive study: they really aren't that hard.
  6. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    so did the old ones!
    True - but the average ADHD sufferer won't want one of those jobs.
    Most of the Heads I've ever worked for got all these things (apart from the extra time). Boss's perks include clerical staff!

    As I think @elder_cat thinks, GCSEs are partly a sorting device to separate the effective learners from the less effective. That's OK in so far as it goes. They're also a measure of achievement, to indicate progression to the next stages of education or work, and a marker of some of what has been done.
    My lack of comfort with post 16 assessment at the moment is more to do with what it doesn't do - we are in danger of many youngsters having less access to certification of things that are important to them, and the lower achievers coming out with just a handful of low grades and little to show the stuff they can do.
    The other day, I was talking to my friend Sir John, who was Vice Chancellor of a University. "Of course, my O levels were really bad, but I was able to progress through an apprenticeship". Post 16 shouldn't be the be all and end all, but we need to work to ensure that post 16 progression is available to all.
    Mr_Frosty likes this.
  7. baxterbasics

    baxterbasics Senior commenter

    The above statement is rather misleading. A "clever adult" is only "clever" because they have been through the education system and passed exams at the age of 16 and above. So in other words, they will be re-jigging and re-calling a lot of what they learned before.

    I think it is all too easy to lose sight of the wider public when we are chatting on a forum for people who have succeeded in education. For example, take the last few questions from the new higher maths GCSE and stop a few people in the street and ask them to have a go. Even for most adults, the new exams GCSEs are quite challenging. I bet a lot of people wouldn't be able to find 35% of £420 armed with only a pen and paper (and many others couldn't do it even with a calculator) - however, that probably says more about our pitiful levels of numeracy rather than maths, compared with most of the rest of the world.
  8. David Getling

    David Getling Senior commenter

    No, you misunderstand me. I don't mean rehashing a subject I've previously studied. I mean, for example, someone like me who has never studied Spanish totally immersing myself in it for a week and then passing a GCSE in it, with a good grade.
  9. baxterbasics

    baxterbasics Senior commenter

    Ok, I see what you mean. If you can do this, you really are very clever.
    minka1 likes this.
  10. peter12171

    peter12171 Lead commenter

    I think the current system - like the old O levels that I took - does have an element of discrimination in it, because some people just don’t perform well under examination conditions. There should be some element of ongoing assessment, either through controlled assessment or (heaven forbid) trusting teachers to assess a student’s capability and progress. However, in recent years the ongoing assessments have been abused and counted for a greater percentage than they should. Change was needed, but not to this extreme.

    As an aside I was a bit reader for a mock examination yesterday. All were entitled to a reader and to extra time. Nobody took either. It just made me wonder how many of those entitled to these actually need them.
  11. Oldfashioned

    Oldfashioned Senior commenter

    we need a high school diploma similar to other countries, rather than individual GCSEs. This would be a fairer system.
  12. David Getling

    David Getling Senior commenter

    No, I'm not trying to say how clever I am, just that GCSEs are far easier than most people want to admit. And, that lots of hard work goes a very, very long way to doing well in them. If the countless hours wasted on social media, mobile phones, and mp3 players were used for study then I'm sure GCSE results would go through the roof.
    Hence my comment about them being a measure of a student's worthiness.
  13. Oscillatingass

    Oscillatingass Star commenter

    Possibly I am misguided or something but I thought the whole point of any examination system was to differentiate/discriminate between the able and the less able. If a potential employer has a pool of potential employees to choose from, the ones that have the better examination passes will generally be more able and therefore a better employee. If examinations enabled absolutely everyone to do well in them what would be the use of them?
    sabrinakat, drek, peter12171 and 2 others like this.
  14. wanet

    wanet Star commenter

    And yet many can do it in their head!
  15. David Getling

    David Getling Senior commenter

    Sadly, the last few decades have seen the touchy feely brigade rig our once respected exam system so that virtually everyone does well and nobody fails. Yet again, I suggest people listen carefully to the words of There Lived a King, from Gilbert & Sullivan's Gondoliers.
    In fact, many employers do not trust GCSE results and administer their own tests.
  16. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Pass a gcse in a week? Surely you jest.
  17. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Lead commenter

    One of my boys took a GCSE Spanish test (not an actual exam, but one designed for people approaching the exam) on their school website (having never studied the subject at all) and got almost full marks. So I don't see why that wouldn't be possible. Even when it was O levels, if you were reasonably clever and well read you could have a stab at quite a lot of content on exams you'd not studied for.
    wanet likes this.
  18. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Surely that just shows the inadequacy of the test you mention.
  19. neddyfonk

    neddyfonk Established commenter

    Testing at predetermined ages what children were forced to learn in order to satisfy the DFE is pretty pointless. We should be moving towards having an essential life skills and selected job skills matrix that is built from assessment (and some testing) of a myriad of learning modules you need or elect to do. So, you may end up with a matrix that emphasises your social / verbal / pragmatic side with an ability to follow instruction meticulously or one that illustrates how adaptable you are when solving problems and managing people ( for example). Much more 'concrete' than leaving school with a bunch of certificates ?
    grumpydogwoman likes this.
  20. Vince_Ulam

    Vince_Ulam Star commenter

    Yes, then we can grow who we need in bottles:

    sabrinakat likes this.

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