A proposal that the GCSE should be adapted to become a national examination for 14-year-olds has been made by Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson of the University of Buckingham in a report published by the Sutton Trust.
The idea raises some interesting questions.
Isn't it right that students should have the opportunity to follow a path which meets their needs in terms of interests and abilities? Why should they be forced to continue with subjects for which they have no interest of aptitude? Why should all students be forced to stay in education or training until 18?
Are we producing too many graduates? Why do we worry when we are told that this country is (machine-like) 'producing' fewer graduates than other countries? Universities are over-subscribed as students try and escape the economic down-turn, and there is anxiety about 'dumbing down of standards and 'Mickey mouse' degrees in bizarre and intellectually undemanding subjects.
On the other hand, there is a danger of making young people choose their career path at too early an age and so reducing their options.
Diplomas already provide an alternative to GCSE. Unfortunately, the low take-up of these courses indicates their current lack of popularity.
As many of the current GCSEs are modular, many pupils already start their GCSE exams at age 14, and there is an established tradition of pupils sitting GCSEs early (although at age 15 rather than 14) in many independent schools.
The Government, however, is opposed to modular exams and has recently announced its intention to scrap them.
As plans to raise the school leaving age are, it seems, still to go ahead, there is certainly a need to take a fresh look at 14-18 education. GCSEs are already failing many 15 and 16 year olds who would benefit more from a less academic and more vocational pathway from age 14, so one solution would be to have an assessment at age 14 (which could be teacher-led rather than external) to ensure that pupils can choose a suitable pathway (academic, vocational or mixed) from Year 10.
What do you think?