ASCL comment on Sutton Trust report on GCSE reforms

05/12/2019
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders comments on research by the Sutton Trust on the impact of GCSE reforms.
 
 
Commenting on research by the Sutton Trust on the impact of GCSE reforms, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

The fact that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their classmates has widened since the introduction of new, tougher GCSEs is a terrible indictment of these reforms. The government was obsessed with the idea of providing harder GCSEs and a new grading system which stretches and differentiates between the most able students. But the issue that we really need to address is how to better serve students who face the greatest level of challenge. The new GCSE system does the exact opposite by making their lives even more difficult.

The full extent of the impact on these students is masked by the system of ‘comparable outcomes’ which keeps results broadly stable from one year to the next. This is why the impact on the attainment gap has been relatively small. The reality is that the students who struggle the most – many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds – have a very poor experience of the new GCSEs and leave school feeling demoralised about their prospects for onward progression to courses and careers. As the Sutton Trust points out, they may also lose out as a result of greater differentiation at the top end of the ability scale if employers or universities focus on those achieving top marks.

We are calling for an overhaul of GCSEs which improves the prospects of the forgotten third of students who currently fall short of achieving at least a Grade 4 ‘standard pass’ in GCSE English and maths. New ‘passport’ qualifications should be introduced in English, and in time maths, which all students would take at the point of readiness between the ages of 15 and 19. In the longer term, we must look at whether such high-stakes exams as GCSEs are appropriate in a system where young people continue in education or training until the age of 18.