GCSEs, Margaret Thatcher and Michael Gove

Margaret_Thatcher_1981The recent publication of official papers from the 1980s provides further context to the introduction of GCSEs. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/dec/30/national-archives-revelations-released-documents

The new common exam, reflected the growth of comprehensive schools, many being given the go ahead by Thatcher herself,  while  a dual system of CSE and GCE O-level examinations, the former  still acting primarily as a ‘leaving’ certificate for ‘non-academic’ young people was also becoming increasingly inappropriate, as staying on rates continued to  increase. In addition many schools were able to ensure that their students were being awarded CSE grade 1 (O-level equivalent).  Despite this however, the papers report Prime Minister Thatcher’s concern that GCSE would result in too high levels of exam success, reflecting  the extent to which  New Right thinking  was already starting to sweep   through the education  system.

GCSE, possibly because it was so new, was able to survive the Education Reform Act, although tiering was quickly introduced.  It wasn’t until over 25 years later that Michael Gove launched a full-frontal attack on the qualification, unsuccessfully seeking to replace it with new E-bacc certificates, but then abolishing most of its progressive features and in so doing so, making it look more like the old O-level, as well as being  harder to pass.

Meanwhile   last week,  CBI  director general  John Cridland called for peak level assessment to be delayed till 18 and rather than GCSE, for more individually tailored learning from  14 and for young people to mix and match academic and vocational learning  ‘depending on what’s right for them’ http://news.cbi.org.uk/news/new-year-message-for-2015/

It does seem ridiculous that with the raising of the participation age to 18,  GCSE continues to dominate the secondary curriculum. Practitioners and teacher unions must not let organisations like the CBI set the tone of this debate however

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