Freedom to innovate – alternatives to GCSE

Will Goldsmith

Head, Bedales School

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Bedales and my previous school, Latymer Upper School, have been in the press recently for our respective announcements about moving to a 2 GCSE model where the rest of our 14-16 curriculum is internally set and assessed in order to better serve and stretch our students. Having now had the time to meet with many of my fellow Heads at this year’s HMC conference in Stratford-upon-Avon, it is clear that, like many other groups in education and society more broadly, there is an acknowledgement that GCSEs in their current form have had their day. In other conversations, it is also clear that there is a profound need for broader reforms in education, even if that will take time. The independent sector is well placed to serve the wider interests of young people in this country and I only hope that politicians see that potential benefit.

Having been part of the campaigning and research group, Rethinking Assessment, for some years now, there is considerable cross-sector work that has already been done to lay the ground for reform, whether it be in exploring what employers in the 21st century need, developing digital portfolios or promoting a wider range of assessment methods, we have built up a momentum that is powerful.

Bedales’ particular focus, as part of a broader 10-year strategic plan, is to continue developing more of our own internally assessed 14-16 curriculum. We started creating these ‘Bedales Assessed Courses’ (BACs) 17 years ago and our latest announcement is merely a continuation along that line of development. For those colleagues who are looking to embark on that same journey, I offer some pointers that we have learned along the way. Firstly, take your time in researching and formulating any new course or curriculum; secondly, look widely around the world and at a variety of sources for inspiration; thirdly, communicate regularly with staff and parents about your plans; finally, be bold in your approach – whether it be in taking a creative approach, a multi-disciplinary scope or just exploring technology to enhance assessment. The joy and privilege of being in the independent sector is we have the freedom to innovate and think beyond the sometimes narrow limits set by the state-funded sector, particularly in the context of the changes brought in over the past decade.

For us at Bedales, this is an exciting time as we enjoy exploring the possibilities of a reimagined curriculum and assessment model in science and languages, alongside our existing BACs. Being able to tailor our curriculum to our students, to free up more learning time and to create a pathway to A Level that is more challenging and engaging is an exciting position to be in. We look forward to working with colleagues from other schools across all sectors in sharing expertise and understanding. We also hope that this will galvanise educational leaders to call for more autonomy for teachers and when it comes to determining what young people in this country learn and how and when they are assessed. While it will take time, governments of all persuasions need to trust teachers more if we are to serve young people better.


9 October 2023