Need to re-think the new concept of examinations

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I WONDER if you would permit me a brief comment on the recent GCSE results report?

Like many people I suppose, I was at first astounded when I noticed that most students from one or two schools had received 17 or more passes. It was only when I dug a little deeper that I found that these results were actually the product of new BTEC courses and their (rather generous?) equivalent awards at GCSE. Given that the majority of local schools have not yet implemented these new courses I thought it distinctly unfair that traditional course results (average 9-10 GCSEs) were shown alongside, as this gave the impression that the traditional students were somehow half as capable. In fact, it was impossible for them to compete on a level playing field because they weren’t even entered for the same courses.

I have to say that if the results were taken at face value it would appear that every single “GCSE student” at one particular state school was miles ahead of every single GCSE student at most other schools in the same area. This is not remotely likely and brings into serious doubt the genuine “equivalence” of the new courses.

Nevertheless, I have little doubt that most headteachers will introduce these new course options over the next couple of years because: (a) BTEC courses resonate with the current government’s drive for direct job training and (b) they represent a seductive opportunity for increasing the kudos of schools with higher numerical passes. This means that qualification inflation will continue unabated of course, but at least the majority of students being examined will be competing in the same ball park.

I don’t blame headteachers for “grandstanding” the reputation of their schools, but I do think this tendency should be balanced with clear information about the courses and qualifications involved, the ongoing debate about equivalent qualifications and the actual availability of these courses.

Dr Kevin Leighton

Newby Farm Road

Scarborough