Private schools to abandon GCSEs following London announcement on own qualification.

Private Schools Consider Dropping GCSEs

A growing number of private schools are contemplating moving away from the traditional General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) system, according to experts. This trend follows an announcement by London’s £24,000-a-year Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith that it will develop its own qualifications, retaining GCSEs only for English and maths subjects. The school’s rationale is to provide a more challenging curriculum for students and free up a quarter of teaching time. Pupils will undertake Latymer’s own qualifications, expected to launch in 2027, and receive a portfolio and transcript of their achievements in each subject.

Similar Moves by Other Private Schools

Latymer Upper School is not alone in this endeavor. The private Bedales school in East Hampshire has also revealed plans to introduce its own “Bedales Assessed Courses” in most subjects. Experts anticipate that more independent schools may follow suit in abandoning GCSEs, viewing it as a freedom they enjoy. However, it’s important to note that state schools are expected to continue with the traditional GCSE system.

Opinions on the Impact of Abandoning GCSEs

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, acknowledges that this shift may streamline the operations of private schools. Still, he questions whether it truly benefits students. Smithers highlights that GCSEs offer independent and objective information to pupils, aiding them in discovering different talents. In state schools, GCSEs also serve as an accountability measure, particularly as more students choose different pathways after the age of 16, requiring evidence of their capabilities.

Latymer Upper School’s Success and Future Plans

Pupils at Latymer Upper School achieved outstanding GCSE results this summer, with 93% achieving at least a grade 7 (equivalent to an A) and 55% obtaining the highest grade of 9. The school believes its new qualifications will stretch students to the equivalent of a grade 10 and beyond, better preparing them for A-levels. The decision to move away from GCSEs was influenced by the pandemic, as the school felt empowered to assess its pupils internally. The new curriculum will also free up months of critical learning time.

Innovative Assessment Methods

The new qualification will incorporate a variety of assessment methods, including oral exams, group work activities, presentations, online assessments, project-based learning, fielding questions from an audience, and traditional written exams. Students will take English, maths, a science, a foreign language, and a humanities subject, with arts, music, and drama considered vital. Bridging courses into A-levels will also be offered towards the end of the two years to aid students in preparation.

Calls for GCSE Reform

Recent calls for GCSE reform or elimination have been prompted, in part, by the pandemic when exams were canceled. A review by the Independent Assessment Commission recommended an overhaul of the GCSE system, suggesting that testing should not be based solely on a fixed age of 16. Critics argue that the current GCSE system relies on a large number of end-of-course exams, offering little opportunity for ongoing assessment or adaptation to students’ needs. Reimagining GCSEs with reduced assessment burdens, increased flexibility, and alignment with the demands of the 21st century has been advocated by various education stakeholders.

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