Last week, the hot topic I was discussing was A-Levels, how we live in a “university at all costs” world, and what businesses could do to promote other routes. At this time of year, it’s often A-Levels that dominate the media but in all honesty, when it comes to practical jobs and apprenticeships, it’s GCSEs that employers should be looking at first.
GCSEs are the first major public exams of a kid’s life and lay the groundwork for what they’re expected to achieve in education.
Historically, they’ve been measured on a scale of A-G with a C being considered a pass mark. It’s a grading system that college admissions tutors and employers like me, have become very comfortable with.
But the standards, apparently, haven’t been up to scratch, so this year they’ve decided to throw the old system out the window and come up with a new 1-9 system, where nine is the top grade.
This latest overhaul of the exam itself is also supposed to make things that bit tougher, with the thought being that if they raise the bar, people are only going to jump higher to reach it.
For someone who hires recruits a lot of kids after they get their results from GCSEs, I need to know what’s what. I’ve made it my mission to look into the new system as thoroughly as possible, after all, the devil is in the detail.
According to the new system, a pass will now be a grade 4, but this will be considered a ‘standard’ pass, with a grade 5 being a ‘good’ pass. In old money, a grade 4 is the same as a C, and a 5 sits between a B and a C.
Why we need two pass marks is beyond me. It apparently has something to do with keeping up with students of the same age in Singapore and South Korea, who we’re told are doing better than our kids.
“Grade inflation”, is another reason for the reform. As far as I’m concerned this is completely bonkers. Surely the point is to teach kids stuff, rather than concern ourselves with bureaucratic irrelevancies like whether or not too many students are achieving top grades.
By changing the system around GCSEs, you only stop grade inflation for one year anyway. It’s like the government deciding to get rid of the pound because there’s too much inflation.
They could burn all the notes and print a new one called a “New Pound”. Would inflation stop? Of course not, it just begins again from a different starting point.
You would also think that if you were going to have a new system for GCSEs, you’d roll it out across the entire country but this is only for England, not Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland already has a different education system.
It would also make sense to rip off the plaster, take the pain once and roll it out across all subjects at once, but the 1-9 scoring system is only for three subjects, English (Language and Literature) and Maths this year, with all other subjects still being marked on the old system.
The other subjects will catch up in time, but this year’s pupils will be forever weighed down by having a foot in both camps.
There’s also a move to 100 per cent exam-based grades this year, which is definitely bad news for employers.
Getting nervous and messing up a one-off exam can happen, but rather than focussing on one day in someone’s life, employees are looking for someone who can focus on a task, project or role throughout the year, or longer. In business, I want a strategic distance athlete like Mo Farah, not a Usain Bolt-style sprinter.
It seems that with these changes to GCSEs, the system is definitely worse at serving its real customers, our kids and businesses who will eventually employ them.
The educationalists and Michael Gove might be feeling pleased with themselves, but for businesses things just got harder, and that means those sitting GCSE exams are also losers.