Why May GCSEs Be scrapped?

For parents of British children who were due to take their GCSEs in a few years time, the proposed decision to scrap the exams and replace them with O-Levels has left many worried. As the proposals were leaked, not announced, so much confusion and misinformation is floating about in schools and the press. All parents really want to know is how will the change affect their children.

So here it is: a breakdown of some of the most common questions about the O-Level switchover and what it means for British schoolchildren.

Why the proposal to scrap GCSEs?
For many years GCSEs have been accused of being ‘dumbed down’, so more children will be able to achieve top marks without truly deserving them. Although the claims have been refuted by teachers, examiners and education professionals alike, the claims have persisted. Some have said that this loss in confidence has meant that GCSEs are looked on unfavorably abroad, as seen by the massive drop in private schools who use the qualification.

So why will O-Levels be different?
O-Levels, or Ordinary Levels, were the old-style exams that were taken by 16 year olds  up until their replacement by GCSEs in 1988. However many countries have continued to use them and a form of O-Level dubbed the IGCSE has become a standard in private schools across the country. Education Secretary Michael Gove has said that new exams will be more difficult and help push the UK back up to the top of international ranking on secondary education.
What about private schools?
For many, Michael Gove’s proposal to scrap GCSEs in favour of old-style O-Level was a seismic shock, yet it seems that private schools have seen it coming for a long time.

It now seems that the Education Secretary is in agreement with private chools that GCSEs are not challenging top students. For many private schools, the change away from GCSEs will go completely unnoticed as many stopped using them several years ago in favour of other examinations. Many private schools rely on having great international reputations, and many felt that GCSEs were viewed so badly that they were detrimental to the image of the school. If private schools are happy with the new O-Level standards, those that abandoned GCSEs in the past few years in favour of IGCSEs will likely return to the fold. This is good news for the government as independent schools who did not use GCSEs could not be ranked for league tables and listed in statistics.

For private schools that still use GCSEs, they are still in a better position than most because they will be able to choose whether to follow the change over to O-Levels or follow other private schools and go for IGCSEs. These are the schools that often have the best attainment in GCSEs and the best Ofsted Inspection remarks, so will no doubt have few problems pushing their students towards the new harder exams.

Will students still be able to re-sit modules?
The government had already came out against continuing to allow students to retake modules of GCSE exams, so including the ability to re-sit seems unlikely to be added to O-Levels. This means that if a child fails a portion of the exam, there is no going back.

While such a move is aimed at driving up standards, many worry it will disadvantage students who panic in an exam when they are actually perfectly able to perform academically. As they tend to have better exam preparation, private schools will likely benefit most from the proposed changes as less of their pupils will be affected. Privately educated students are current less likely to re-sit GCSE exams, meaning that if re-sits are scrapped in the O-Level system less adapting will be needed on behalf of both students and teachers.

So what happens next?
One must remember that this is still a policy proposal and is open to change. The policy will go out for consultation and it is unlikely that the first set of the new exams will be sat before 2014. This means that schools will have plenty of time to assess what is best for them to do to prepare for the possible new exams.

This is a guest post from contributing author Charlie Oszvald. Charlie is writing for Bales College, a private secondary school in London which offers A-level and GCSE Courses.