As a coda to my blog on the debate about GCSE grading, here are three points about GCSE reform.
First, at a time when the participation age is being raised to 18, England needs to move to an overarching baccalaureate as a summary of educational achievement at 18 and reduce the extent of the external examinations for 16 year olds. The age-relatedness of exams at 16 is all about accountability and does not suit a good proportion of young people.
Second, with the new GCSE aiming for all students, if it is to be fit for the needs of 21st century employers, it is important that it should be criterion-referenced at each grade and not norm-referenced.
Third, all external qualifications – but especially those at GCSE level – should place more reliance on teacher assessment, moderated by a national network of chartered assessors.
Chartered assessors are experienced teachers, externally accredited to carry out assessment, both internal and external, to national standards.
With the increase in the amount of evidence thus available to assess the achievement of candidates, examination grades would become more reliable, with properly moderated teacher assessment included as part of the grade.
When A-levels and O-levels were introduced in 1951, it was fully intended that they should be phased out as teachers gained greater experience of assessment at these levels. But this never happened.
True, the coursework element of exams grew and external moderation was introduced to maintain standards. But coursework, eventually affected by plagiarism and inadequately moderated, never reached its potential which, in the hands of good teachers, is the perfect adjunct to good teaching.
The best teacher I ever worked with, Len Rowe, used 100 per cent coursework for English for many years, maintaining that the students’ folders contained a wider range of evidence of their ability across the full range of skills in English than could be exhibited in any written examination. When political trust in coursework faded and 100 per cent coursework GCSEs were abolished in the early 1990s, Len retired at the age of 56, wanting to be no part of the new system and writing a searing letter to Lord Griffiths, then the head of the exams body, SEAC.
Coursework will continue to be used in art, technology and music. Modern languages orals and science practicals can and should use teacher assessment. We should put greater faith in the professionalism of teachers by extending coursework well beyond this, enabling the external examination system to be trimmed to a more reasonable size (and cost). But politicians score easy points by deriding the credibility of teacher assessment. To overcome that we need a system of chartered assessors – the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (which I chair) stands ready to deliver such a system.