‘Coherent’ upper secondary plan needed before GCSEs can be scrapped, Husbands warns

A “coherent view of routes across upper-secondary” is needed before Labour’s plan to scrap GCSEs can be enacted, Labour skills taskforce chair Professor Chris Husbands has said.

Speaking to Schools Week this morning, the Institute of Education director, pictured left, said GCSEs had “less function in the system” as when they were introduced almost 30 years ago, but should not be scrapped without plans in place for a system to replace them.

His comments come after shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, pictured right, told the Guardian newspaper his party could get rid of GCSEs in the next 10 years, replacing them with a single baccalaureate for 14 to 19-year-olds similar to the one recommended by Mr Husbands’s taskforce, which was initially passed over in favour of the technical baccalaureate.

Mr Husbands said he didn’t take Mr Hunt’s comments as a policy commitment, and said such a move would be difficult “politically” for any party, but added that with the participation age rising to 18 this September, there was less of a need for GCSEs.

He told Schools Week: “When I started teaching in the early 1980s, loads of kids left at Easter before they did their exams. Introducing GCSE was a way of keeping them at school. GCSEs have less and less function in the system.

“But we need a coherent view of routes across upper-secondary, and that’s when we can get rid of GCSEs. But, electorally, my understanding from speaking to Conservative and Labour MPs, is that going into an election, getting rid of GCSEs would just be so difficult to defend. It needs to be done with consensus and it needs to be done gradually.”

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  1. Gradual movement towards graduation at 18 is welcome – that’s what happens in most other developed countries. Exams at 16 could still play a part as they do in some other countries. But they should only be used to decide 16+ progression and few in number (no more than 5 as, again, in those countries where 16+ tests still continue).