Independent schools abandon GCSEs

  • 13th September 2023

Co-educational independent Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, London, is to drop all GCSEs apart from English and maths and replace them with its own qualifications, the Evening Standard has reported. Teaching for the new qualification will begin in 2027.

Bedales school in Hampshire also announced plans to move pupils onto its own ‘Bedales Assessed Courses’ in most subjects.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at the University of Buckingham said more private schools are expected to follow suit, but state schools will continue with GCSEs.

Smithers said: “More independent schools may follow because it is a freedom they enjoy as private schools. There is no doubt GCSEs divert their activities for 16-year-olds and interrupt the design of courses that run from age 13 to 18.”

However he warned: “Some pupils might not discover different forms of talent if they don’t get the independent, objective information that GCSEs provide.”

Ian Emerson, deputy head of Latymer Upper School, told The Times teenagers would be stretched to the equivalent of a grade 10 and beyond and also be better prepared for A-levels with the new qualifications.

He added: “We’ve been discussing for several years the possibility of replacing GCSEs with some internal courses. The pandemic and all that came out of it was a big driver for us. Our staff just felt very empowered to say, we know how to assess these pupils. We know what we need to do. We want to make sure we do this really well and get it right, it’s going to be well delivered.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The current system of GCSEs relies on students taking a very large number of end-of-course exams. There is often no opportunity for ongoing assessment or ways to adapt the qualifications to best suit the needs of pupils.

“A grading cliff-edge in English and maths results in a third of 16-year-olds leaving school without a Grade 4 standard pass, something that is both demoralising and damaging to their future prospects.

“In the face of an examination system that feels increasingly outdated, it is unsurprising that some schools are exploring alternative options. It is time to rethink GCSEs to reduce the burden of assessment, increase flexibility and ensure they are fit for the 21st century.”

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