SIR – There are no reasons at all to maintain examining, and certainly not GCSE exams, at 16.
With the raising of the participation age beyond 16, any sense that a final set of exams at 16 is required will soon be removed. The essential problem is our inability to reconcile criterion-referenced assessment, related to competency (like a driving test), with differentiating assessment (exams that say one person is better than another), required for selection to higher education.
A bold Secretary of State could solve this at a stroke by introducing competency-based assessments at 14, then leaving differentiating assessment until 18.
This would also allow different pathways to be chosen at 14, in time to avoid the disaffection that occurs by 16 in some schools. The success of the university technical college model, starting at 14, is witness to that.
It would also allow four years to study academic subjects in many schools, enabling excellence to emerge from the current undergrowth of assessments.
The Dearing and Tomlinson reports both pointed to 14, not 16, and both were shelved. Part of the reason is the need to change the infrastructure of schools and colleges currently focused on 16.
Bold leadership may allow a paradigm shift in the familiar education narrative.
Headmaster, Bolton School
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