We don’t need O-Levels and CSE’s, we need a flexible education system

GCSE’s are a crucial part of anyone’s CV. They are seen as an essential requirement for employment or the “traditional” path towards studying at universities.

As someone who followed this route I found that my GCSE’s were important as a stepping-stone to A-Level and for university applications. For this reason, they were useful.

Yet not everyone wishes to attend university or even to study A-levels. I believe that our education system does not give what these students require to succeed in finding employment. Rather than memorizing facts that cannot be applied in real-life scenarios, we should concentrate on entrepreneurship and creativity.

For this reason I understand why Gove is trying to reform the GCSE’s.

However, I would argue that Gove’s reform will do little to aid their employability or their success. As The Daily Mail have found, the lower 25% of students may be taking a CSE qualification by 2015 under Gove’s proposed policy leaked in June.

The current GCSE system in the UK allows students to sit Foundation, Intermediate and Higher GCSE papers dependent on academic ability.  This means that those sitting a Foundation GCSE paper are still able to achieve a C Grade – more than enough for a number of pupils and employees alike. It is also not a requirement to state what paper you sat on your CV.

By segregating the lower 25% with a new type of qualification, students will automatically be classed as “lower ability” pupils. When deciding between an applicant with an O-Level qualification and a CSE, the employer would of course generally choose the applicant with the O-Level qualification. This will have a devastating effect on the individual’s employability.

It has also been suggested that the reform will create a greater divide between richer and poorer students in the UK. Chris Cook, the education correspondent from the Financial Times, stated here that “the CSE will tend to be an exam for poorer children”.

There seems to be a number of arguments against the reintroduction of this two-tier system. So what would be more beneficial than O-Levels and CSE’s?

One of the redeeming features of Gove’s reform was his admiration of Singapore and Hong Kong. Speaking in 2011, Gove said that “they are restless self-improvers”. Of course the determination to constantly improve would be an amazing aspect in any nation and particularly in an education system.

Yet even this admiration been criticised by top education consultant David Price. Price stated in his blog in June that the aspirations of the Singapore have already “moved on” from what Gove is apparently seeking.


It would be more effective to look at what China are doing to aid creativity in their education system. Helen Gao at The Atlantic recently wrote criticizing their use of the gaokao exam – a heated 9 hour exam that is spread across two days which determines college entry. This can be seen as an old-styled exam that develops over-competitiveness and little room for developing an individual’s skills.

Yet recent news has also shown China’s flexibility towards Art and Design colleges. Eric Abrahamsen blogged a few days ago for The New York Times illustrating China’s attempts to reform their education system.

Xing Wei is Shanghai’s first Art and Design college, founded by Harvard Graduate Chen Weiming. Weiming states that he wished to create a college that develops creativity and individuality.

Creativity is definitely what our current GCSE system lacks. Rather than learning life-skills we are forced into memorising facts in a short space of time. To be completely honest, I can hardly remember crucial information apparently “gained” from my eleven GCSE’s.

For those who do not want to attend university, I would struggle to argue with them that GCSE’s were productive. The vocational GCSE’s that Gove wishes to abandon are perfect for those who are less inclined towards the traditional route.

I think it is still important to lower the amount of vocational subjects that exam boards offer and ensure that they lead to viable skills. But it is crucial to do this alongside a flexible reform that it suitable for all pupils.

What do you think about Gove’s reform?

Is it a good idea?

What would you suggest as an alternative?


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