Heads give warning on new exam

HEAD teachers have sounded a warning over plans for a new exam system.

Kevin Higgins, head at St John Fisher in Dewsbury, said the Baccalaureate Certificate which is set to replace the GCSE exams must be fair to all.

And at Heckmondwike Grammar School, head Mike Cook said nothing should happen in haste.

But a Kirklees teaching union went further by saying: “This is a backward step.” And a spokesman pointed out that teenagers coming up to GCSEs could see themselves as ‘studying for something worthless’.

The government wants to toughen up standards in tests for 16-year-olds, broaden subjects and stem year-on-year grade inflation.

Mr Higgins said: “Rigour is one thing, but we must be fair to all students and, if we are not careful, some young people could be disadvantaged by this change.”

Teenagers will start to sit the new exams from 2015 in core subjects English, maths and science, foreign languages, history and geography, taken at the end of a two-year course.

“End-of-course exams don’t suit all students,” said Mr Higgins. “People learn in different ways. Certainly the new system will favour the more academic students.”

He hoped the Certificates would not be ‘a fear of failure’ situation. “But one which rewards the achievements and abilities of all,” he said.

Mr Higgins insists that exams haven’t been dumbed down. “Some are more rigorous and difficult than in the past,” he said.

“Students have worked hard and teachers have become expert at getting the best from them.”

Mr Cook said pupils were working harder than ever but that an ‘upward drift’ in results had created suspicion. And problems would arise from any attempt to stiffen standards on higher grades.

“The new qualifications need to be introduced carefully and schools need time to prepare children properly.”

Mr Cook put forward the alternative of further reform of the accountability framework, including performance tables.

“Ofsted could support schools in their endeavours by focusing on the quality of learning and teaching above all else while reducing undue reliance on the evidence of limited number of data items.”

Hazel Danson, joint local secretary of Kirklees NUT, said: “There are problems with the current system and there is a need for serious debate.

“But that should take place with experts in the sphere. We will be responding to consultation on this with our own suggestions. Meanwhile, three year groups could be studying for a qualification which, by the government’s own admission, is worthless.”