It’s no longer as simple as ‘A, B, C’ for GCSE grading

It’s no longer as simple as ‘A, B, C’ for GCSE grading

Firstly, let me congratulate all the young people collecting their GCSE results today.

As a teacher, I know how hard you have worked to get where you are today; opening that envelope with your heart in your mouth, knowing the grades you’re about to see can make all the difference to your future.

So, it fills me with great sadness to say that this generation has been lumbered with a new grading system that is going to baffle all those deciding their futures – colleges, universities and employers.

Confusion reigns for many reasons:

  • What is a pass? Grades 4 and 5? It can’t be both. What does it mean to have a ‘strong pass’ at grade 5? Is a 4 really a pass? This is truly ridiculous.
  • The top-down system is also confusing with 9 being the highest grade. For so long we have been used to A being the highest grade, so if you were going to change to a numerical system, it would have made more sense for 1 to be the highest grade.
  • As there are now only three grades at the bottom – 1, 2 and 3 – instead of four grades – D, E, F and G – is this a subtle attempt to ‎say that more students have passed? And I thought Michael Gove wanted to make it tougher to get top marks when he dreamed up this new system?
  • There were eight grades A* to G. If they wanted to make it nine grades why not have a B* and a B – problem solved!

With those small adjustments, the government, colleges, universities and employers would have been able to better distinguish between the higher-performing students.

But it seems the government thinks that painting signs a different colour means real reform has taken place.

It doesn’t and it glosses over the fact that what we need is an overhaul of the current education system, which is leaving us lagging well behind in the international league tables.

Improving our primary education offering should be at the heart of this reform.

There is no point reforming GCSEs when far too many 11-year-olds are starting secondary school without even a basic grasp of literacy and numeracy.

Those youngsters are never going to be able to catch up in the secondary school system and by the time they take their GCSEs, it will be far, far too late.

We need a more robust primary curriculum that is methodical and ensures young children learn the basics in a systematic way, so they can really grasp what they have learned before moving on to the next topic.

Yes, this would mean a return to more traditional ways of teaching in primary schools but when they have grasped the basics they can then be encouraged to be creative ‘free thinkers.’

When students are at secondary school age there needs to be far more choice so their futures are not decided by the area their parents can afford to live in. Alongside academies and free schools, we need grammar schools for the brightest, targeted in the most deprived areas, which are largely served by poor-performing schools.

We also need more technical and vocational options for 14- to 18-year-olds. It’s time to get away from the notion that we all need nine, ten or eleven GCSEs.

Yes, for the academic high achievers that is a suitable route but for those children who have other more vocationally orientated talents, all they need is the core subjects and a chance to study their chosen specialism in depth.

We are already seeing admissions to universities drop and more young people taking up the apprentice option when they’ve completed their A-levels.

It’s time to admit Tony Blair’s vision of 50% of young people going to university is unworkable and economically not viable. It was that vision that led to a whole host of new, abstract degrees and the introduction of tuition fees to pay for them all.

We cannot all be part of the academic elite, but we can all play a very important role in Great Britain PLC.

There is a skills shortage in this country and now, more than ever, we need to harness the talents of young people so they can all contribute most effectively to a post-Brexit economy.

And this doesn’t mean trying to make everyone go down the academic path.

I look forward to the introduction of T-levels (the technical equivalent of A-levels) and hope further down the line there will be more technical and vocational routes for even younger students.

So, to all young people who may not have got the grades they hoped for today, I know in every single one of you will be a talent yet to be discovered. Make an appointment with your nearest further education college and speak to a local careers’ advisor.

There will be options to retake some GCSEs while studying at FE college, and work experience placements can give you real hands-on experience and help set you on your way to employment.

And to the government I say: You had many positive education policies in your manifesto; do not give up your principles without a fight.

Changing GCSE grading is just papering over the cracks – what is needed is radical reform.