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Should GCSE exams be taken earlier?

09:26 UK time, Monday, 22 November 2010

A report from an education charity is calling for GCSEs to be taken at the age of 14, after which pupils could go on to specialise in academic or vocational courses. What impact would earlier exams have?

The study, commissioned by the Sutton Trust, calls for young people to take exams two years earlier in order to give them an idea of their capabilities before they choose qualifications for the future.

At present in England's schools, Prof Alan Smithers of the Trust says the system forces young people to make life-changing decisions too early. He argues that a form of undeclared selection takes place, where options are chosen at 14 and exams taken at 16 and there is a lack of clear routes into technical and work-based training.

Are you a parent or teacher? What do you think of the proposals? What improvements would you like to see to the education system?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Comments

Page 1 of 2

  • Comment number 1.

    Nope, the SAT's are more than enough, I remember how stressful there were.

    And I'm sure those of the older generation can remember how stress the 11+ was too.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm not sure that many children make serious career decisions at 14 years of age that are dependent on their own assessment of their capabilities. At that age, most are surely driven by a combination childhood dreams and aspirations fed by peer influence and that of the media. How many of us truly knew at that age what we wanted to do? I know I didn't. But this is not a life-changing decision either at that age. To label it as such when there is still time to re-assess and change direction up until say the early 20s or even later is to put still more pressure on youngsters at a time when they surely have enough to deal with. Leave the examination system as it is and pay attention instead to effective career guidance within the school environment targetted on a combination of the natural talents and wishes of the child balanced with accurate assessment of the individual's potential by teaching who should be best placed to help in this regard.

  • Comment number 3.

    Definitely not. Although GCSEs have been dumbed down so much that a 14-year-old could pass them, moving the age to 14 would only lead to further dumbing down so that in 10 years' time there'll be a call to sit them at 12, and so on until GCSE certificates are issued with birth certificates.

  • Comment number 4.

    Amendment: the last sentence sould read "Leave the examination system as it is and pay attention instead to effective career guidance within the school environment targetted on a combination of the natural talents and wishes of the child balanced with accurate assessment of the individual's potential by teaching staff who should be best placed to help in this regard."

    and I read it through before inital posting as well....

  • Comment number 5.

    So is Prof Smithers really saying teachers are no longer competent to assess their pupils? Were they ever competent to assess their pupils? If they were then what has gone wrong? And, if they were not, why not use end of term exams as the basis of assessment measurements in subjects? Why mess with formal examinations again?

    Bright students normally have university aspirations foisted on them long before fourteen years (in my case I was eight years old). But children change just like people change. Let's just keep education on an even keel for a while.

  • Comment number 6.

    1. At 09:48am on 22 Nov 2010, Joe wrote:

    Nope, the SAT's are more than enough, I remember how stressful there were.

    And I'm sure those of the older generation can remember how stress the 11+ was too.


    I can't say that I found sitting the 11+ stressful one little bit.

  • Comment number 7.

    You do not fatten a pig by weighing it. Children are taking far, far too many exams and tests. As a result of which some of them learn how to pass exams with little broad understanding of the subject, let alone enjoyment! A great many children see no point in learning except as a means of passing exams. This is not education. Most of the earlier years tests and exams should be abolished and the role of GCSE's at around 16 scaled down. All methods of assessment are flawed, but traditionally hand written examinations do almost no one any good.

  • Comment number 8.

    Nice now the mystic preachers intend to destroy our children's education completely - in order that they do not possess any knowledge of how incompetent, morally bankrupt and corrupt the state has become!

    Evil is evil

  • Comment number 9.

    No. 14 is too young to make the big choice between an academic and vocational path.

  • Comment number 10.

    The problem with taking the exams earlier would ultimately be making sure they were worth the paper they were written on and that once they had been achieved the students have an idea of what it is they want to do.

    There isn't enough information given to students on the careers area, we have students chosing the wrong subjects for the career they eventually decide on half way through their A'levels.

    The whole system needs an overhaul. Until there is a good standard of reading, writing and numeracy before the students are faced with life changing exams we will struggle to let them reach their potential. The primary curriculum needs to be stripped back to these basics and any testing in those years must focus purely on these skills. We are failing the students if by the time they take exams; upon which their entire working life may possibly be based, they haven't the basic skills needed.

    If the proper counselling is given and the students engage with the chages it could lower poor behaviour and improve attainment as engagement in the chosen subjects will go up.

  • Comment number 11.

    1. At 09:48am on 22 Nov 2010, Joe wrote:
    Nope, the SAT's are more than enough, I remember how stressful there were.

    And I'm sure those of the older generation can remember how stress the 11+ was too.

    ===========================

    I didn't find the 11+ stressful, but I had good teachers who knew what they were doing and who didn't slavishly follow Government diktat about educating the children in their care.

    Allowing GCSEs at the age of 14 is just an admission that they have been dumbed down enough for children to pass at that age. Perhaps '0' Levels could be brought back to challenge the brighter pupils?

  • Comment number 12.

    I think school per se starts far too early for many kids in the UK. Denmark waits until 7 and their results are better if anything. Making GCSEs earlier would be a continuation of the same folly.


  • Comment number 13.

    3. At 10:05am on 22 Nov 2010, grumpy old man wrote:

    Definitely not. Although GCSEs have been dumbed down so much that a 14-year-old could pass them, moving the age to 14 would only lead to further dumbing down so that in 10 years' time there'll be a call to sit them at 12, and so on until GCSE certificates are issued with birth certificates.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A serious and intelligent view, highly unusual for this HYS but as welcome as a breath of fresh air.

  • Comment number 14.

    Not all GCSEs should be sat at 14 but I do feel that reducing the number of subjects taught and sitting those GCSEs at the age of 14 leaves the following year to do another set. This should then allow students to focus on 4 or 5 subjects in a year rather than 8-10 over 2 years. It could also allow a focus on English and Maths earlier allowing possible resits of these core subjects in the following year at the expense of 1 or two other subjects.

  • Comment number 15.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 16.

    GCSE at 14 !!!I still don't know why GCE at 16 stopped .. (ho sorry yes I remember now ... dumbed down to GCSE so everybody got a prize )
    Okay so just for a moment of absolute maddness i'll go along with GSCE at 14 ,WHAT then "A" level at 16 . Wait for it complete degree 19 ,Post Grad masters 20. Then Ph.D 21 OR Seeing that there are plans in the pipeline for 2year degrees PhD at 20!!!
    If that has not doctored the education system What will?

    Well that was my moment of madness....
    Apart from the Institute of Ology will start issue certicates in Ology at the point of birth ,during primary education one can add on or upgrade the ology until one reaches Master ology commomnly known as KIDOLOGY

    There is a vast difference between an education and a qualification




  • Comment number 17.

    Intersting point made on Toady this am. Apparently most of this proposal revolves around the school leaving age being increased to 18.
    I'm not close to being an expert, or even remotely knowledgeable in this area, but it has eemed to me for years that kids are very over-tested these days. I would also like to say, I have 9 old fashioned 'O' levels, 4 'A's and a 2:1 Honours degree in Economics, but lots of young people coming out of education today at 16, have a much wider range of knowledge than I did at that age. Or even do now come to that!

  • Comment number 18.

    So you dumb down the GCSEs and take them at age 6.

    Brilliant - so how do you assess them at 16 when they have to choose a career?

  • Comment number 19.

    6. At 10:13am on 22 Nov 2010, Magi Tatcher wrote:
    1. At 09:48am on 22 Nov 2010, Joe wrote:

    Nope, the SAT's are more than enough, I remember how stressful there were.

    And I'm sure those of the older generation can remember how stress the 11+ was too.

    I can't say that I found sitting the 11+ stressful one little bit.


    Alas Joe, that goes for me too.

  • Comment number 20.

    6. At 10:13am on 22 Nov 2010, Magi Tatcher wrote:
    "I can't say that I found sitting the 11+ stressful one little bit."
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    I'll bet you sat the Eleven Plus before it was fashionable, or allowable, for children to become stressed and neurotic.
    I was much more concerned about the sting of my Mum's right hand, should I fail.

  • Comment number 21.

    The current GCSE examinations are too easily given away like a toy with a happy meal. Where's the excellence in that?

  • Comment number 22.

    It makes no difference if they take their exams at 14, 16 or even 18, there still wont be any jobs for them.

    So they will go into higher education and get into deep debt, an then stay unemployed or take a low wage job so the dont have to pay back the high education fees.

    But this government will still waste millions in researching this and providing reviews and polls to show its a good idea.

    Maybe the UK government should take a look at the Polish education system, there 10 year olds could do our GCSE's

  • Comment number 23.

    umm one of the great qualications I ever read on a job application was BSc eng. Calcutta (failed).. By today standards that would now rate somewhere between a 1.1 and a Masters from some universities

    Quality and depth of knowledge is the most important factor,and Not the piece of paper!!

    GCSE at 14 If accept WILL be taken into cosideration when applying from a job or university place REGARDLESS of pupil preformance at say 15 ,16, 17 .. Private school will have an increased definite edge over the state schools ,WHY because most council top slice school budgets for "other councils budgets ".
    In dipping into school budgets it is usually the 11,12 13 yr old that suffer...therefore lack of money ,leads to lack of resources ,equals lesser exam results .... at 14 QED

  • Comment number 24.

    I welcome this proposition, as with my kids still at primary school, we will be better prepared for 2 years early GCSEs. The extra 2 years gained from this can be used in apprentice based courses, IT/Engineering or Medicine for further studies. Given current economic situation and lesser jobs available to take up on leaving schools/uni, any extra years spent on vocational-apprentice based courses will be very helpful.
    My vote is in for this.

  • Comment number 25.

    This report is utter drivel. Personally, I spent my time in my third year at secondary school socialising and having fun, as kids should, and then I knuckled down later on for my O-levels, so if this proposed scheme was in place then I may never have become a PhD scientist who has made valuable contributions to research. It could be, however, that the fact that this report is considering making GCSEs earlier, reflects how easy GCSEs have become.

  • Comment number 26.

    I agree that some children may know which direction they wish to take in life at 14. Many still do not know at 16, some drop of university, and in their 20s and 30s we still change our minds.

    At 14 they are (we were) still children. Yes, get them to learn everything they can. Don't throw massive responsibility in their direction as well.

  • Comment number 27.

    1. At 09:48am on 22 Nov 2010, Joe wrote:
    Nope, the SAT's are more than enough, I remember how stressful there (they) were.

    And I'm sure those of the older generation can remember how stress (ful) the 11+ was too.


    You Joe, are a classic example of just how much the British education system has been dumbed down in recent years.

  • Comment number 28.

    Why not take them at 5, after all if you can put your finger print on the paper its an A, if you can manage a name its an A* (even if the name isn't quite yours).

    What would be better is...
    a) Reinstate the idea that not everyone can pass an exam
    b) Revisit the idea that people can be productive, useful, interesting and successful without a massive collection of GCSE, A levels and degrees, that we need people who can make things - personally I wish I could! Of course this will mean the government needs to stop bailing out banks and put some effort into reinvigorating our manufacturing capability.
    c) Realise that the way to compete with China, India, Germany et al is NOT by giving everyone a pointless piece of paper but by educating people to be proud of themselves, give them an interest in their country, pride in their work, pride in themselves, politeness and deference towards people who have more experience, and above all to start believing that things from Britain are actually valuable and good!~

  • Comment number 29.

    "Should GCSE exams be taken earlier?"

    No. Although they're probably easy enough for 14 year olds to pass now that they've been dumbed down so much.

    I'm with Michael Gove on the other issue regarding GCSE's though. Modular courses need to be done away with and exams for the whole 2 year course should be at the end. Same with A levels. Same with university courses.

    And all courses and exams at all levels need to be made much more academically difficult.

    And university admission should be made far more competitive.

    And you shouldn't be able to get in without a minimum of 3 Cs at A level (that's three Cs at a new A level standard that's a difficult as they used to be before the dumbing down of the last 25 years or so).

    And we should go back to means tested maintenance grants for those who do get in - based on say 5% to 7% of school leavers getting in to uni.

    And there should be no tuition fees at all. Universities should be funded by a combination of the taxpayer, research grants and income from foreign students - like it used to be before they tried to fix something that wasn't broken.

    And 'new' universities should revert to polytechnics or FE colleges or whatever they were before the politicians started interfering.

    University education used to be about academic elitism. It should get back to that - SOON.

  • Comment number 30.

    I'm in my 3rd year at university, and nearing the end of my educational life. What bothers me about this is the reduction of subjects taken. The first few years of secondary school were fabulous for me as I enjoyed having such a wide variety of subjects. As you get older, the number of subjects you take is gradually reduced. I took about 15-20 for yr7-9, then down to 12 for GCSE (although most do 8-10 for GCSE), then 5 for AS, then 3 for A2, then 1 at university. I really miss studying other subjects. Just learning Chemistry seems so narrow minded. I thoroughly enjoyed gaining the general knowledge of many subjects. I think this information is important for growing children. It's good to learn about all different areas, not just the ones you are good at. School is too exam based! Let children enjoy learning for once, and reduce the stress. GCSEs could easily be taken by 14 year olds, but they shouldn't be. Make them a harder and keep them at 16.

  • Comment number 31.

    Good to see an intelligent response to a festering problem - the only thing we need now is a proactive piece of infrastructure support to help our BRITISH kids into either apprenticeships OR university - irrespective of race, colour, creed, as long as our BRITISH kids get the first choice in any of our further education institutions - NOT the usual head-count of foreign students, despite their full fee paying status (despite who's actually 'paying' the fees...). Aberdeen Campus is more like the UN than a Scottish Educational facility.

    Maybe our BRITISH industry (what's left of it) and this pathetic Gov - the one WE taxpayers voted for and FINANCED - might help our BRITISH kids into their chosen professional futures?

    Nice dream, can't see it comming...

  • Comment number 32.

    I have to agree with Prof Smithers on this one, they`re kids first and foremost. While there are a minority of kids who, with a little push from their parents, are groomed early in choosing a career, most are still honing their social skills by hanging out with their friends and just being kids. They have the rest of their lives to be grown up and responsible, let them enjoy their childhood while they have it.

  • Comment number 33.

    Some of our kids cannot comprehend/understand basic English and Maths even AFTER they leave school so how will they get to pass exams a year earlier???

    My own daughter is the youngest in her year and is now just catching up with her peers in her final year - so NO it would not work as she and many others would not benefit

  • Comment number 34.

    Making learning interesting would be a far better approach.

    I thought I was dim at maths until I had a go at it in my 40s...maths is actually a doddle, 30 years too late for me though...

  • Comment number 35.

    If I'd done my GCSE's (actually S-grades as I went to school in Scotland) I'd have done less well in them. It was only when I got a chance to choose the subjects I liked at 14 that I really started doing well at school.

    The obvious glaring hole in this proposal is that the exams could not be comparable to the current exams. The level of science we were learning at 14 just doesn't compare to what we were learning at 16. In addition you would surely be asking kids to choose which subjects they wished to study for exams on the day they started secondary school? Surely if this 'solution' is intended to solve the 'problem' of 'the system forces young people to make life-changing decisions too early' then choosing subjects for GCSE at 12 makes it ten times worse?

  • Comment number 36.

    Even AFTER taking the "General Collapse of Secondry Education" exams, I don't think most pupils have an full grasp of a career path either. They may have ideas but nothing is set in stone until the job is taken.

    All this does is futher devalue the GCSE because the kids still have to make future education and career choices anyway because, and I quote "after which pupils could go on to specialise in academic or vocational courses".

    So what's the point in taking them earlier?

  • Comment number 37.

    30. At 11:29am on 22 Nov 2010, Tezbuzz wrote....

    Well said Tezbuzz.

    I felt exactly the same at school, the stress and boredom killed it for me by 14, it was much more fun and interesting to learn in my own time at home.

    The education system really dose need to rediscover how to nurture and develop people, our failings here are partly why the UK doing poorly.

  • Comment number 38.

    Not a bad idea, but the describing exams at 14 as GCSE's is surely misleading.

    A broad academic exam -- maths, English, science, a foreign language, history, taken at 14 and replacing SATs would give focus to the early years at secondary school, which can be rather purposeless and provide a common academic basis that everyone leaving school in the UK would have to achieve.

    This would then set the scene for what will soon be four more years of compulsary education (14-18) that could lead to a set of school-leaving exams maybe along the lines of the IB for the academically minded and a mix of core skills and vocational qualifications for those who prefer. For those who struggle seriously, for whatever reason, passing the age 14 assessment before they leave school might be appropriately challenging.

    We'd end up with two periods of external assessment instead of four (SATs, GCSE, AS and A levels) giving teachers more room for creativity and flexibility.

    There would need to be a reasonable way to switch tracks somewhere between 14 and 18 for those who realise they've made a wrong choice, or who mature settle down and start working after messing up at 14, or whatever. Maybe allow transfer between streams at 16, at the cost of repeating a year.

  • Comment number 39.

    29. At 11:27am on 22 Nov 2010, Wyn wrote:
    "And all courses and exams at all levels need to be made much more academically difficult.

    And university admission should be made far more competitive.

    And you shouldn't be able to get in without a minimum of 3 Cs at A level (that's three Cs at a new A level standard that's a difficult as they used to be before the dumbing down of the last 25 years or so).

    And we should go back to means tested maintenance grants for those who do get in - based on say 5% to 7% of school leavers getting in to uni."
    ________________________________________________________________________
    The problem with that is back 40 or 50 years ago when 5-7% of school leavers went to university there were plenty of well paid jobs in industry for those with more vocational skills to go into. In addition subjects like 'IT' or (my degree) Genetics simply didn't exist.

    In addition universities have now taken on subjects that used to be taught 'on the job' such as nursing, or (one I wished I'd taken) 'aircraft engine maintenance'

    Britain is a completely different place to 50 years ago and universities have done a damn good job adapting. They're one of our very few real success stories of the last 20 years.

    Incidentally in Finland EIGHTY PERCENTAGE of women go to university. Iceland & Norway are just a little behind.

  • Comment number 40.

    6. At 10:13am on 22 Nov 2010, Magi Tatcher wrote:
    1. At 09:48am on 22 Nov 2010, Joe wrote:

    Nope, the SAT's are more than enough, I remember how stressful there were.

    And I'm sure those of the older generation can remember how stress the 11+ was too.

    I can't say that I found sitting the 11+ stressful one little bit.
    ******************************************************************

    I didn't find SATs stressful either. Partly because I knew I would pass them. That and the fact my grandad died around the time (I actually missed the science one because of his funerual) so had other things on my mind.

    When we were in the end of year 9, we had to pick which courses we wanted to do for GSCE, so dropping the age by 2 years will mean children need to choose afat the end of year 7, which is way too young to be deciding on your future (for example, many degree courses need certain A levels, which need certain GCSEs- it's very hard to get into medicine without triple science!)

  • Comment number 41.

    wvpTV - I think the American's have a good idea about how university is tackled- they take a range of courses depending on what they enjoy and eventually specialise in a major once they've worked out the best subject for them. I'm so sick of Chemistry- would be nice to take a few side modules in unrelated subjects.

  • Comment number 42.

    Bringing back structured careers advice and abolishing the numerous pseudo universities would be a good start

  • Comment number 43.

    A modern GCSE is little more than a few weeks actual work. Take them at 14 and then build up to the old O level standard for 16 or maybe the C&G syllabus for those not pursing academia.

    An all of with pen on paper - no more copy'n'paste.

  • Comment number 44.

    Is this an admission that these exams are dumbed down so that a 14 year old could sit them? Children are incredibly variable. Some 12 year olds could sit them and get good grades. I've neighbours of 70 who would struggle. When I was 14 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. At one point I thought I'd like to be a ballet dancer even though I was short and a bit dumpy. Then a concert pianist or a poet. Perhaps even a farmer. We all develop at different ages and stages. 14 seems very young to make decisions, and many would make the wrong choice. Sounds like bullying to me.

  • Comment number 45.

    It does not matter what people think should be done to improve our falling education standards, the teachers and their unions will just ignore it or make up another excuse why they are so inept. Their needs to be radical shake up of the educators and a move away from their left wing, dogmatic approach to educating OUR children. First thing should be to sack the incompetents who infest the education system. That will shake up the system and send out a signal to their pathetic unions

  • Comment number 46.

    Being the mother of a 15 year old and a 19 year I feel that whilst they had the intelligence to pass take the exams at 14 years neither had the maturity to deal with them. Aswell as dealing with pressure at school these teenagers are dealing with turning into adults with hormones flying around. Both my children attended a high performing local comprehensive and have done / are doing well unfortunately not all children are in that position. Allow them to be children leave the exam system as it is at 16, very few actually know what career they want at that age so we need to keep all options open to them.

  • Comment number 47.

    What I find more worrying is that Gove is busying himself winding education back to the days of mortarboards, private schools only and allowing any special interest group with a half-baked axe to grind to set their own school up.

  • Comment number 48.

    Would it be too radical, to suggest that we scrap our current system of national examinations altogether, and move instead to the International Baccalaureate, which provides broad and structured educational programmes for kids from 3 to 19 years of age.
    In the UK, 220 secondary schools offer the IB Diploma programme; worldwide it's offered by over 3000 schools in 139 countries. The IB is widely accepted for UK university entrance purposes, and is regarded by many admissions tutors as superior to A Levels.
    Our education system is tired and creaking; it's no longer the world's gold standard; it's time for a re-think.

  • Comment number 49.

    They may as well be taken earlier, the GCSE's have become easier year on year so 14 is probably a good age, or maybe they should be the new 11+

  • Comment number 50.

    Msg 39. At 11:48am on 22 Nov 2010, Peter_Sym wrote:

    The problem with that is back 40 or 50 years ago when 5-7% of school leavers went to university there were plenty of well paid jobs in industry for those with more vocational skills to go into.

    Possibly, - but IMO that's not a valid reason for changing the HE system - especially if that results in a lowering of academic standards. Not sure I agree with the 'no jobs in industry' thing anyway. I understand that qualified builders could demand sky high rates when they were building T5 at Heathrow due to a shortage of people with relevant qualifications. Shortage of brickies, plumbers, plasterers, roofers, electricians, mechanics etc. etc. etc. is something I hear on a monotonously repetitive basis. And 1 million or so Poles with these kinds of quals seemed to have been easily absorbed into the UK workforce before the recession.

    In addition subjects like 'IT' or (my degree) Genetics simply didn't exist.

    Yes, but these are academic subjects suited to HE study.

    In addition universities have now taken on subjects that used to be taught 'on the job' such as nursing, or (one I wished I'd taken) 'aircraft engine maintenance'

    Don't know any of the latter but I do know a few nurses, some of whom are 'on the job' trained and some who have done nursing degrees. As both types of training are currently available and as the end products of the training end up doing the same jobs - it seems to suggest that uni level education is not necessary.

    Britain is a completely different place to 50 years ago and universities have done a damn good job adapting. They're one of our very few real success stories of the last 20 years.

    Sorry I don't agree. I don't call churning out thousands of dole queue candidates with mickey mouse degrees a success story.

    Incidentally in Finland EIGHTY PERCENTAGE of women go to university. Iceland & Norway are just a little behind.

    I'm not sure how this is relevant to the UK. And I certainly don't want to start paying Scandinavian rates of taxation.

  • Comment number 51.

    At 11:29am on 22 Nov 2010, Tezbuzz wrote:
    I'm in my 3rd year at university, and nearing the end of my educational life.

    _________________________________________________________________________________________
    I sincerely hope not, Tezbuzz, or you are likely to fall badly behind the many who continue their educational life for decades after gaining their first degree. I know several people in their mid fifties, for example, who never stop studying, have two Masters degrees each, and are currently studying for a Doctorate. Don't give it up now.

  • Comment number 52.

    I remember my GSCE back in 1994... what they're doing now is so easy it a joke!!!

  • Comment number 53.

    Why not start children's formal education at 1 that way we can have them out of University and paying back their mega debts by the age of 16!

    Alternatively for the less academically gifted we could have them start work at 12.

    It could lead to a revival of the chimney sweep industry!

    Alternatively as the system isn't broke don't break it.

  • Comment number 54.

    At 11:48am on 22 Nov 2010, Peter_Sym wrote:
    29. At 11:27am on 22 Nov 2010, Wyn wrote:
    "And all courses and exams at all levels need to be made much more academically difficult.

    And university admission should be made far more competitive.

    And you shouldn't be able to get in without a minimum of 3 Cs at A level (that's three Cs at a new A level standard that's a difficult as they used to be before the dumbing down of the last 25 years or so).

    And we should go back to means tested maintenance grants for those who do get in - based on say 5% to 7% of school leavers getting in to uni."
    ________________________________________________________________________
    The problem with that is back 40 or 50 years ago when 5-7% of school leavers went to university there were plenty of well paid jobs in industry for those with more vocational skills to go into. In addition subjects like 'IT' or (my degree) Genetics simply didn't exist.

    In addition universities have now taken on subjects that used to be taught 'on the job' such as nursing, or (one I wished I'd taken) 'aircraft engine maintenance'

    Britain is a completely different place to 50 years ago and universities have done a damn good job adapting. They're one of our very few real success stories of the last 20 years.

    Incidentally in Finland EIGHTY PERCENTAGE of women go to university. Iceland & Norway are just a little behind.

    _______________________________________________________________________________________
    Agreed. Why do the British consistently downplay anything good about the country? Whatever problems there may be in education, and I have no doubt that problems can be found, British education is still highly regarded, and rightly so. Incidentally, your comment on Finland is correct, but may I add that university tuition is not only free, but is aided financially. Nobody here that I've ever heard complains that there are too many at university, or that it's too expensive to support. Strangely enough our taxes, if higher, (and that's open to doubt) are not appreciably so. I wonder why.

  • Comment number 55.

    This doesn't make sense. Surely by forcing children to take GCSEs even earlier, that forces them to make "life-changing decisions" even earlier also? In my view this proposal would put children from affluent, middle class backgrounds with better-educated and supportive parents at an even greater advantage in the increasingly competitive education market than they already have.

  • Comment number 56.

    GCSEs could be taken years earlier.

    Primary school (age five to age ten or eleven) is a waste of everybody's time, as parents could teach their children more in less time if only they tried. Primary school is a glorified nursery - emphasis on play, play, play, not work, work, work. Primary school it where the majority of children learn that they will never do very well in life

    Cut out primary school and send children to the next level at age nine. Take GCSEs at age thirteen.

  • Comment number 57.

    I'm guessing all the regular knee-jerk reactionaries on here who claim that exams are a piece of cake now compared to in "their day" have never looked at a contemporary set of exam papers. For once in your life why can you not actually admit that teachers and students work extremely hard to produce the results they do?

  • Comment number 58.

    My son's school has just run a trial this year where they have taken maths, science and history exams a year early - that made him 14 years old when he sat the exams this june, as he is one of the yougest in his year. He is very bright but not an A* student. This meant he had to sit his history exam (which is quite an in depth and work intensive exam)at 14 years old. This is the same exam that if taken a year later (as in most schools)the pupils who are the eldest in that year would be approaching 17 years old. That is nearly 2 years age difference in two students sitting the same exam.
    I had major reservations about GCSEs being brought forward a year as alot of the pupils (especially the younger ones in the year) are not mature enough to sit them. Kids really dont need this pressure before they are able to handle it.
    Oh and guess what - the school has seen this as an unsucessful trial and will not be repeating it with the next year of students.
    Why they have to keep changing the education system is beyond me.
    When I see some of the job applications written by students coming out of school I am aghast at the standard of numeracy and literacy. They should be taught english, maths and science as we were a few decades ago. This generation of kids has been conmpletely failed by the education system.

  • Comment number 59.

    #50. My whole point is that there are more academic subjects than 50 years ago hence a need for more graduates unless you want LESS people studying medicine, engineering etc


    Regarding Plumbers- the £60,000 a year plumber was mostly a myth before the recession and certainly one now. The house building industry is wrecked and needs people earning graduate (and then some....) salaries to actually buy the houses. Plumbers, electricians etc are service jobs, not 'Industry' Its not the same situation as the 1940's when you hundreds of thousands building ships (which are sold abroad for cash), hundreds of thousands more making the steel to build the ships and a million down the mines mining the coal to smelt the steel! (can you guess my family come from Clydeside and Tyneside?)

    Even the armed forces were ten times the size they are now and offered amazing vocational training.... all virtually gone now.

    Why would more graduates mean scandanavian levels of tax anyway? Only if the full cost of their education was met by the taxpayer and they didn't go onto earn anymore than they would elsewhere.

    I suspect you (and many other people) are choosing to misrepresent Blairs '50% going to university statement'. He didn't wake up one day and suddenly decide that 50% of kids should go to university.... he had an independent report saying that by 2030 50% of jobs in the UK would require a degree. Quite different.

    You also seem to think that university's sole purpose is to teach undergrads. In actual fact this a small part of their purpose. Its remarkable how many new drugs and devices come out of university research depts. My former university invented the MMR scanner. That brings in about £20 million a year in licence fees.

    Whether or not you feel that nurses (or a variety of other jobs we could name) require university training is debatable, but without question SOMEONE has to provide the post-secondary school training and universities have the infastructure (medical schools) and experience to do it. You could set up 'nursing schools' and offer 'certificates' rather than 'degrees' but ultimately its just changing the names of the qualification.

    As a final note- you might sneer at degrees in 'surf management' or 'golf course design' but these are growth industries and their graduates have a higher rate of employment and pay than graduates in traditional subjects. Its not the 1950s- the jobs that make money these days are not the jobs that made money when my parents were at school.

  • Comment number 60.

    Raymond Hopkins- degrees are not for me. One is more than enough. I graduate with a undergraduate Masters as it's a four year course with industrial experience. I am currently on placement and also doing university work on top of a 9-5 work day. I will continue to learn and read, and I'm sure I'll make use of the U3A when I'm older too. I can't see myself doing a separate Masters or Doctorate. By the time I graduate in 2012 I know that I will have had enough of organised education. I don't plan to stop learning but I know I'm not a big studier. I love to learn, but I hate exam taking and essays etc. I'd rather just have the knowledge not be tested on it repeatedly.

  • Comment number 61.

    52. At 12:40pm on 22 Nov 2010, Phil wrote:
    "I remember my GSCE back in 1994... what they're doing now is so easy it a joke!!!"
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    And I remember my GCE 'O' Levels, back in 1963...what you did in 1994 was so easy, it was a joke!!!

  • Comment number 62.

    And if they fail at 14? If our educational system is recognisable by the dearth of employable students coming out at the other end (as highlighted by the majority of Company CEOs recently), then why produce an even bigger pile of unemployable, illiterate no-marks by allowing them to leave school early? Unemployed, and unemployable at 14!!!!! Life really just doesn't get any more pathetic than that!!
    We are tinkering around with education, instead of getting stuck into the basics. We need to ask ourselves why we are the least literate and numerate country in Europe, then sort it. Simple.

  • Comment number 63.

    From what I've seen of the GCSE's these days pupils could take them at the age of 9, do no more work and still get an A.

  • Comment number 64.

    I'm all for it as an option, should the child, parents and the teacher agree they are ready for it. it may even put pupils into advanced subjects they are good at and enjoy doing. A pupil that excels in one subject taken away from a disruptive class and put with other like minded pupils will perform far better. Do you really need to have GCSE in history and geography to be a brilliant mathematician? If you don't want to learn a subject then you won't, as many school leavers have shown.

  • Comment number 65.

    At last, I have been advocating for years that young people provided they have a good schooling in the three ‘R’s should be able to choose between academic and a vocational (more hands-on) or trade based education.
    This has so many advantages that those youngsters who are bored witless by the formal classroom can be released to "get their hands dirty" and learn a trade so that they have a skill to earn a living. This country is in dire need of practical skills to re-establish its manufacturing base.
    The more academically inclined then can pursue their classroom based studies without having to battle against disruption and peer pressure.
    If managed properly this will substantially reduce truancy and re-establish the labour force in this country instead of trying to turn everyone into a graduate.
    In my early days in construction I worked with time-served tradesmen who took seven years to acquire their skills starting at 14 as indentured apprentices on a quarter of a tradesman's wage; at 16 the went to half a man's wage and from 18 three quarters until 21 when they earned a full tradesman's rate. This was lost to the sub-contract system (which started as the Lump in the 60's) which generated a much more mobile workforce reducing the opportunity for on-the-job training.
    We need to re-establish our trades based workforce before these skills are permanently lost, not just in construction, but throughout our industry, which we are losing to those cultures and countries that respect the practical skills for their value to society and do not consider them to be menial.
    Some people are good with their heads and some are good with their hands and we need to recognise and respect this.

  • Comment number 66.

    Ah how nice it is to see all those people petrified of the well educated young adults coming up behind them mocking the ease of GCSE's! Perhaps you would like to sit down and retake your 'O' levels as GCSE's and see how well you do! No other country in the world would feel the need to constantly put down their youth, their future, in this way! Perhaps all us young people should take our worthless degrees and exams and go and work abroad, where they actually mean something!

  • Comment number 67.

    More nonsense from Prof Smithers.

    The real question should be whether the increasing numbers of GCSEs being taken provide value for money or educational benefits. Why do we think anyone benefits from taking 14 GCSEs, apart from accumulating points?

  • Comment number 68.

    msg 59. At 12:51pm on 22 Nov 2010, Peter_Sym wrote:

    I agree that there are more academic subjects than there were 50 years ago. My point is that - apart from these academic subjects - universities are offering courses (and far too many of them), which are not academic. And I want more - not less - doctors, enineers etc. And I want more home grown artisan/service type people (taught at the appropriate institutions and at the appropraite level) so that we can employ these (and those similarly trained in our partner countries in the EU) so that we don't need to import those from outside the EU.

    Re nurses. My point is that nursing training (I'm sticking with the nursing example as my late mother was a nurse) used to (and can still) be done on the job in hospitals. The people trained in this way - when they enter the workforce post training - are doing the exact same job as those who did a nursing degree. I'm suggesting that this demonstrates that nursing, and many other professions, are vocational rather than academic in nature and do not require a degree.

    I'm fully aware of the excellence of postgraduate research departments in UK unis. And I want more of this excellence - which, IMO, is only going to be possible if we revert to thinking of a university education as providing an elite academic education as its purpose.

    Re. the non-academic degrees you mention in your last paragraph. It's not really a matter of sneering. It's just that I can't really see the necessity of training at anything above about HND in these subjects - if that! One of the people I keep in touch with in Wales is in HR management. One of his major gripes is that the vast majority of jobs which require qualifications that they advertise require nothing higher than a couple of A Levels at most (with the odd HNC or possibly HND now and then). But huge numbers of graduates apply for these jobs - mostly with mickey mouse degrees.

  • Comment number 69.

    "Specialise in academic or volcational courses"

    HYS - "young people to take exams two years earlier in order to give them an idea of their capabilities before they choose qualifications for the future."

    So now they might need exams to work out what exams they're going to take and two years less to study those subjects.

    What about just having a decent academic education from word one?

  • Comment number 70.

    I am a parent and former secondary school teacher. I would agree with GCSE's being offered at age 14. Frankly I see huge failures in our current system whereby bright keen students are just reduced to the lowest common denominator. I have recently withdrawn my own 13 year old son from a "good" secondary school in LB Barnet because I felt his intelligence was given insufficient credit, and he is capable of accomplishing far more than school seemed to get from him.
    In spite of some staff claiming he would be capable of passing GCSE ICT he was not allowed to sit the exam at age 13 as "what would he do for the next 3 years?"
    Lack of attendance due to extreme boredom on his part in some subjects was countered by threat of fines (which I am vehemently against, a ridiculous notion of "one size fits all" punishment...in cases where punishment per se is not the appropriate action).
    After half a term at home he is accomplishing wonders academically, fixing his mind on long term goals, and crucially is a much happier teenager. I've no regrets about my decision; if GCSE were possible at age 14 it could give teenagers such as my son a fuller sense of achievement which school at present seems unable to.
    I should add that I intend to relocate to California for the sake of my son's future.
    Too many aspects of British life - education being one of them, simply seem to lack any forward thinking.

  • Comment number 71.

    50. At 12:29pm on 22 Nov 2010, Wyn wrote:
    MDon't know any of the latter but I do know a few nurses, some of whom are 'on the job' trained and some who have done nursing degrees. As both types of training are currently available and as the end products of the training end up doing the same jobs - it seems to suggest that uni level education is not necessary."
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I know a few nurses too. And I also know the massive rise in patient litigation and insurance preimiums. University degrees are becoming increasingly necessary for anyone involved in treatment.

    Some theorise hospital porters and cleaners will soon have to have the highest qualifications to work with or near patrients if hospitals and care services are to shield themselves from massive claims.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Sorry I don't agree. I don't call churning out thousands of dole queue candidates with mickey mouse degrees a success story.

    Hmmm but our top universities havine been educating people in theology and Classics ever since they were founded. Mickey mouse degrees surely?

    And isn't Mickey Mouse one of the most successful brands ever invented?

    Not sure if Walt had a degree but I know millions who have who wish they could invent another equally as successful character.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Incidentally in Finland EIGHTY PERCENTAGE of women go to university. Iceland & Norway are just a little behind.

    I'm not sure how this is relevant to the UK. And I certainly don't want to start paying Scandinavian rates of taxation.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    But most of us certainly want Scandinavian rates of pay and holidays.


  • Comment number 72.

    What's the obsession with exam results in the first place? Everyone knows that education results have little to do with whether a child will be successful or not.

    In addition, why is it that an under-performing student is denied access to further education due to their results? Surely they need more time in education than the rest!

  • Comment number 73.

    I have watched News 24 all day and i have still not herd about this story!
    BBC, are you going to let us talk about issues of the day or just keep fobbing us off with these non stories????

  • Comment number 74.

    57. At 12:49pm on 22 Nov 2010, RadialSymmetry wrote:
    I'm guessing all the regular knee-jerk reactionaries on here who claim that exams are a piece of cake now compared to in "their day" have never looked at a contemporary set of exam papers. For once in your life why can you not actually admit that teachers and students work extremely hard to produce the results they do?
    ______________________________________________________________

    I'd more or less go with that. I've only experienced one major problem with English education (I say English because the Scottish system is more old fashioned and still requires large numbers of basic facts to be remembered in order to pass the exam) which is that the students I get (I'm 33 BTW) are incapable of doing really quite basic calculations regarding concentrations of chemicals in solution. I couldn't have passed S-grade chemistry without being able to do these sums.

    However in most other areas of knowledge the students I get now seem as capable as ever and are very competitive. There is much in the sylabus now which wasn't there when I was a kid,

    Perhaps the English exam system would be better served if the grades were standardised? i.e the top 10% get A's, the next 20% B's etc. That way even if one years paper really was easier than a previous years you wouldn't have everyone getting A* ? Universities wouldn't have to worry about setting higher and higher entry requirements each year and employers could easily see who the very, very best students are.

  • Comment number 75.

    54. At 12:43pm on 22 Nov 2010, Raymond Hopkins wrote:
    _______________________________________________________________________________________
    Agreed. Why do the British consistently downplay anything good about the country? Whatever problems there may be in education, and I have no doubt that problems can be found, British education is still highly regarded, and rightly so. Incidentally, your comment on Finland is correct, but may I add that university tuition is not only free, but is aided financially. Nobody here that I've ever heard complains that there are too many at university, or that it's too expensive to support. Strangely enough our taxes, if higher, (and that's open to doubt) are not appreciably so. I wonder why.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Clive James once asked why the British of all people constantly try to run down their institutions. The BBC, The NHS and the education system, were, (and to an extent still are) envied by practically every other country in the world.

    Yet the right-wing media consistently runs them down. The apparent rationale being we must be as much like the US as possible and we will then be as powerful as they are.

    In terms of university to say you have too many graduates is like saying you do not have enough illiteracy or people are too well.

  • Comment number 76.

    52. At 12:40pm on 22 Nov 2010, Phil wrote:
    "I remember my GSCE back in 1994... what they're doing now is so easy it a joke!!!"
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    And I remember my GCE 'O' Levels, back in 1963...what you did in 1994 was so easy, it was a joke!!!

    ---------------
    And my Father remember matriculation back in 1947 what you did in 1963 was peanuts!
    and
    My Grandfather has pointed out that the School certificate in 1926 was harder than a degree now.

    My Great great great,etc grandfather remarked that advance Fire Making and cave painting was far superior.

    Every generation thinks the next has it easy.

    Personally I suspect those about to take GCSE ,A Levels and degrees now are likely to have it a bloody site harder than I did 30 odd years ago

  • Comment number 77.

    62. At 1:24pm on 22 Nov 2010, Chris wrote:
    And if they fail at 14? If our educational system is recognisable by the dearth of employable students coming out at the other end (as highlighted by the majority of Company CEOs recently), then why produce an even bigger pile of unemployable, illiterate no-marks by allowing them to leave school early? Unemployed, and unemployable at 14!!!!!
    __________________________________________________________________
    As opposed to failing at 16?

    I presume that there are no plans to change the age at which you can leave school. If that is the case then it means you have 2 years min. in which to take the kids who fail at 14 and get them onto vocational schemes.

    You don't need GCSE's to become a mechanic but you do need training and if the training is there for them at 14 they may be better off than at present. Of course this needs joined up thinking by those in charge and plenty of money so its unlikely to happen as neatly as I wish

  • Comment number 78.

    If, with the introduction of independent schools, this is a gradual slide back to the 11+, it could be good. The 11+ gave many working class children (including me) the opportunity to receive a first class education, which is nowadays is not possible. With some exceptions, the comprehensive system has generally produced two generations of people who, through no fault of their own, are poorly educated, poorly disciplined, lacking in respect, lacking in knowledge and common sense, and quite inarticulate. If our country is to survive, the next generation must not have the same shortcomings.

  • Comment number 79.

    It doesn't matter when the exams are taken, simpler teaching by simpler teachers and learning the stuff to get you a pass are what's created a badly educated UK.

    I heard a discussion on the radio about modular delivery vs the good old 'final exams'. The argument for modular was that the all-in-one-go final exam (O & A) put too much pressure on and that kids "...didn't do what they were good at!!"

    I thought the whole idea of exams was to test the students mettle as well as their ability to study...to study a subject they were not 'natural' at and STILL show some achievement, with most people maths would fall into this category!

    You studied hard you 'grasped' the basics and you passed an exam showing the ability to take on a task you found fundamentally difficult but ultimately showed you could develop enough of an understanding to stand on your own and deliver.

    Isn't that what taking exams is all about? Overcoming adversity, proving an ability for personal management, showing independence?

    Obviously not, so as the educational standards of the UK decline are we not heading for a seriously dim future where the rich hold all the good jobs and rule over the working classes...actually that sounds quite good to me :)

  • Comment number 80.

    Any HYS about education always seems to include a healthy dose of “dumbing down”. Having taken public exams fairly recently my observation was that they don’t change from year to year. In the exams I found myself doing questions I had practised several times before. I think I would have done worse if they were “dumbed down” but with vaguely different questions.

    I am worried I haven’t fully understood the proposal. Young people specialise too soon (totally agree) so the solution is to take GCSEs earlier so that they can move into more specific education? That can’t be right because it makes no sense.

    Education should be about showing your capabilities but also equipping you with essential skills. To me these are two different things and our exam system should reflect this. Some should give more precise marks, an A at A level and even an A* fall into quite big boundaries and there is a score out of 600 waiting to be used. Others should be more like a driving test, testing competency rather than giving a grade. Essentially, fattening as well as weighing.

    The worst thing in my view would be to separate vocational and academic study as two distinct paths. I don’t think they often go together (though they do with something like medicine or teaching) but I feel young people should be encouraged to study some vocational courses and some academic ones before making any big decisions about their futures. Surely one of the biggest demands on our current and future workforce is flexibility.

  • Comment number 81.

    There is nothing wrong with giving young people a test at around age 14 i.e. before the final tests at completions of compulsory education. The proviso is that they should be used in a postive way to assess strengths and weaknesses for pupils and teachers to work on together. The current bureaucracy led system is too concerned with grading/streaming and classifying young people with certificates that will determine their options for future development.
    Instead of labelling pupils at the end of their compulsory education....the focus should be on testing their ability and aptitude to succeed/benefit from further academic or vocational education or training. education/training. That would put the onus on the pupils to decide for themselves (with guidance if required) what they want from education and life.
    Finally, the doors should not slam shut at any stage of life,n obody shyould be made to think that they have missed the boat. Education is a lifelong experience which should have infinite entry - exit - re-entry points.

  • Comment number 82.

    I think this is education policy by experimentation and political bias, again.

    The problem with this is the Government of the day will give creedence to the recommendations of whichever body appears to sit best with their political philosophy.

    It seems Governments automatically believe they should change the system as soon as they are elected, essentially to conform to their own political agenda and not on the merits of what is best and what works for those directly involved, which is not the politicians and lobbysts.

    I think refrms if necessary need to be gradual (1) to give them time to work or not as the case may be and (2) to allow those directly affected, mainly the pupils and teaching profession, to evaluate them.

    Also, I believe politicians and parents should have less say not more as is often advocated.

    What I would also agree with is that exams are not the be all and end all - we don't generally feel we need them in industry. Instead we use a system of continual assessment and measurement by results. Similarly, rote learning, having a penchant for taking an exam or even just having a good memory are not things you see employers looking for on your CV.

    40 years ago, I had a teacher who I believed was truly inspirational and backed this up with outstanding results. Yet even he thought that formal exams GCE O levels at 16 and GCE A Levels 18 found failed many students. He advocated that students should have been allowed, like in a work place, to use books and or/ask questions of peers, collegues, etc.

    I would like to see a greater emphasis on training the teaching profession in developing skills in recognising when and how to help their pupils recognise and specialise in what best suits them in terms of ability and aspirations, and by that I mean a natural progression, not artificial streaming. There also needs to be a greater emphasis on promoting softer skills for teahers not just their academic ability. All too often a very academically qualified person can still be a poor teacher because they lack the XFactor....how to make their subject so interesting and appealing and easier for the students in the class.

  • Comment number 83.

    68. At 1:43pm on 22 Nov 2010, Wyn wrote:
    "Re. the non-academic degrees you mention in your last paragraph. It's not really a matter of sneering. It's just that I can't really see the necessity of training at anything above about HND in these subjects - if that! One of the people I keep in touch with in Wales is in HR management. One of his major gripes is that the vast majority of jobs which require qualifications that they advertise require nothing higher than a couple of A Levels at most (with the odd HNC or possibly HND now and then). But huge numbers of graduates apply for these jobs - mostly with mickey mouse degrees."

    I more or less agree, but its exposing the myth of the 'in the old days 5% of school leavers went to university'. The extra undergrads these days are mostly going to universities that used to be polytechnics (so their students didn't count as 'going to university') and did 2 year HND's rather than 3 year degrees. Its worth remembering that there have been calls to reduce BAs/Bsc to 2 years in some cases (and in some cases I agree)

    Not nearly as much has changed as some will claim. It doesn't even 'dumb down' degrees because no employer thinks a degree from Luton is the same as one from Oxbridge nor is a degree in nursing considered equal to a degree in medicine.

    As for the final part. MY first job was advertised as 'requires 2 A levels' when I wouldn't have even got an interview without a degree. Its a scam on behalf of employers. They get graduates but don't have to pay graduate wages.

    I'd be interested to hear what your criteria for a 'mickey mouse degree' is though. Subject? Institution? Grade? Its worth pointing out that my housemate has a VERY well paid job in the civil service and has a degree (MA) in the US civil rights movement. In depth knowledge of Martin Luther King is of zero relevance to the job he does now but the degree proves his intelligence and his ability to carry out in depth research unsupervised. Transferable skills are very important these days.

  • Comment number 84.

    Oh..It took them several decades to suss this one out then!

    To the alarm of several on this board it is pretty well what is happening already in some schools. Universities actually take more notice of what the expected grades will be as assessed by the teachers than the actual grades anyway.
    One very important point not mentioned by any of the worthies in any of the "advisory" organisations or "committees" and completely (unless I have missed it , then apologies.) not referred to in any of these comments is that age is a single very imperfect framework for deciding who takes what level of exam.
    Some children could very easily do GCSEs by 14 and A levels by 16. They are often the "very bright but don't apply themselves" types who , because they have energy to spare, channel their intellect in other less advantageous ways.

    Because almost nobody, certainly with any power and influence, has both seen this and can do something about it we have millions of children who simply "mark time" until they reach the "right" age to progress to the next level. Some get lost during this time.

    Too early to make career decisions? sometimes yes. Somewhere out there is a news report of a 25 year old footballing fanatic who said without any hesitation that he was going to play for England in the World Cup.
    His name was David Beckham.
    Getting it wrong at 16 is far less serious than getting it wrong any time later.

  • Comment number 85.

    It looks to me that it the old Technical schools syllabus coming back and no bad thing either IMHO. Could it be that at last someone has realised that one type of education doesn't fit all?
    Additionally to remark on RadialSymmetry's No57 comment, I have been a teacher for over twenty years and a GCSE English marker for 15 years, and I KNOW that, given a pre1984 exam paper, most of today's candidates would struggle with a CSE let alone an exam which was once needed to get into Higher Education.
    It may be that the pupils do work hard but that begs the question why school sixth forms now have to teach 'Functional Skills' because what they learn in English and Maths now has no relevance to practical life and requirements in the real world,but hey, they can all get an A !
    One final point to prove the current exams are not equal to, nor better than 'In my days'.The maximum number of O levels allowed to be taken at my Grammar school was 8; A levels, maximum was 3. With these we could get into any Further Education we wanted, including Oxbridge. Yet I have taught in a High School where girls, thick as two short planks, are sitting 10 GCSEs.

  • Comment number 86.

    Choices have to be made at some stage of a child's life and whether that is 11, 14 or 18 is open to debate. However, if you take GCSE's at 14 what the heck are the children going to do for the remainder of their time in formal education?
    I think some children - mainly boys - would benefit from leaving formal, classroom education at 14. But we have got rid of all the Secondary Moderns, all the Technical Colleges, all the Polytechnics and a lot of apprenticeships because they were seen as lower somehow. Now we are realising that not everyone is cut out to a life in acadaemia and that an education in one of the above institutions is not necessarily a second class education.

  • Comment number 87.

    This is a very difficult subject; clearly there are some very talented and bright children at the age of 14, and clearly there are some not so bright and in a race for equality we are setting some up for failure if we do theses exams too early. My personal experience is that my children both seemed a little too immature to care about the years ahead at the age of 14 or indeed 16. My children are not stupid and they have a good grasp on commonsense but they are not the academic kind sadly and it does not make them bad people.

    I would like to see children taking the exams when they are ready and being not being forced to by an impatient education system.

  • Comment number 88.

    I am not sure it matters any longer...I am amazed that many who "pass" these exams cannot even do basic calculation or tell you what the capital of Australia is or even who is the leader of the opposition. As for grammar, well, that's another story. I suspect most cannot divulge what the formula for quadratic equations is either (basic math).
    It seems everyone passes these GCSE's these days. So whether the exam is taken at 14, 16 or even 12, it won't make any difference.

  • Comment number 89.

    Why not sit GCSEs at 12, A levels at 14 and Degrees at 18 ? That way no one would have to pay for a degree since you could take them at school !

    Brilliant - I've just solved the higher education funding problem at a stroke. The only flaw would be that exams might need to be a tiny bit easier - still, rather like they have become over the last 20 years or so.

  • Comment number 90.

    88. At 3:10pm on 22 Nov 2010, Richard Kendal Leah wrote:
    I am not sure it matters any longer...I am amazed that many who "pass" these exams cannot even do basic calculation or tell you what the capital of Australia is or even who is the leader of the opposition. As for grammar, well, that's another story. I suspect most cannot divulge what the formula for quadratic equations is either (basic math).
    _____________________________________________________________________


    To be fair the capital of Australia (and most US states) are a bit of a trick question. Likewise I can't actually think which (if any) GCSE would require you to know the leader of the opposition. I had an English teacher who was extremely keen on us reading newspapers... not in the sylabus but she was 'old school' and believed in educating pupils not training them simply for exams.

    I've had no problem with 20+ year old students grasp of maths- they could probably do quadratic equations better than me (wouldn't be hard!) but what they DO have problems with is applying maths to real lab situations. There are plenty of websites will tell you how many grams of something in how many mls make how many moles but its damn irritating when they have to go and log onto a computer to find out something I was taught to do in my head (or if I was really lucky a calculator) at 14.

    Its not a lack of knowledge thats the real problem but a lack of knowing who to apply their knowledge...... plus a lack of common sense when the computer tells them something blatantly wrong. I had one student try to dissolve 2kgs of salt in 100mls of water!

  • Comment number 91.

    GCSEs at 14?

    Only goes to show there is no real replacement for the 11+ (even if I did fail it!).

    As a lad I was faced with 11+, 13+, ‘O’ levels, ‘A’ levels and ‘S’ levels. Several very solid tests at decent intervals from which employers could draw sensible conclusions.

    Putting all the eggs into one basket at 16 seems a rather non-rigorous way of measuring the performance of pupils, teachers and schools.

  • Comment number 92.

    Should GCSE exams be taken earlier? Well, I'd be surprised if most 14 year olds could not pass them, they are that easy.

  • Comment number 93.

    Quote Message 11 Mrs Vee: "Allowing GCSEs at the age of 14 is just an admission that they have been dumbed down enough for children to pass at that age. Perhaps '0' Levels could be brought back to challenge the brighter pupils?"

    Perhaps not. My children were doing A levels in 1984 and I saw some of their A level practice papers. My immediate thought was: "I was doing this at O level!" Now there's a proposal to do GCSEs at the age of 14. The next thing ill be to bring the age down to 11 and we'll be back at the 11+. That simple decides who is good can cope with academia and who is good with handwork of all sorts which are also moneymaking careers. When I was younger, there was a difference between a 'career' and a 'job. No longer. Plumbers can earn more than teachers etc.

    When I was at a primary school - yes a good one because the pupils were of the same indigenous background - we did spelling tests every lesson that took only about 10 mins, if that. When it came to the 11+, it was simply another test and most of us did not know what it was aimed at. Some got through and some didn't but those who didn't often went on to lucrative careers/jobs.

    Another exam, a 13+, often got those who blossomed a bit later into grammar schools or technial colleges. I know someone who went to a secondary modern school and finished up in the Royal College of Music. If only we could go back to that system and weed out those who keep the cleverer ones back; not just those with brain power but those with hand power too. That was the best system.

  • Comment number 94.

    how on earth do you expect a 14 year old to decide if they want to be a shelf filler or a burger flipper.....someone,s got to fill these vacancies?

  • Comment number 95.

    i want compensating, i didnt get this bespoke education when i was young, and i ended up with a rubbish job....gimme some money NOW !!!

  • Comment number 96.

    Exams and education - there is a point where real-world experience is more useful than schooling and exams. That point is different for each individual. For some it may be 15, others 18 or even after a degree is attained.

    Raising the leaving age will only cause difficulties for schools in trying to maintain discipline and interest with a section of pupils who would rather be off helping some decorators.

  • Comment number 97.

    92. At 3:37pm on 22 Nov 2010, Kuradi Vitukari wrote:
    Should GCSE exams be taken earlier? Well, I'd be surprised if most 14 year olds could not pass them, they are that easy.
    _____________________________________________________
    To be fair I could probably 'pass' any GCSE exam you slapped in front of me now, but I wouldn't be getting the 98% marks many students are getting.

    However contrary to what the tabloids claim we still have 20-odd% of kids leaving school with no GCSE's at all. They're clearly not THAT easy.

  • Comment number 98.

    One point about the old Technical School system that should be kept in mind is that children left those schools without any qualification at all. Certainly it was a better education than they would have got in a Secondary Modern, but speaking from personal experience, had no effect whatsoever on working life or the chance to get a job. Perhaps it was a bit different in other parts of the country, but that's the way it was in North-East England at that time, in the mid fifties. If modern children are to be pushed through a technical system, it is to be hoped that some decent qualification is offered.

  • Comment number 99.

    Well I remember taking my GCSE's and I could have taken them in the 2nd or 3rd year. It was like going backwards in the level that I had been taught to, especially in Maths. French was no harder at GCSE level than 2nd year either.

  • Comment number 100.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

 

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