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Unions 2000 Friday, 10 March, 2000, 20:20 GMT
GCSEs 'artificial divide' in curriculum
John Dunford
John Dunford predicts that GCSEs will cease to be the 'big' exam
Alison Stenlake reports from the Secondary Heads Association's annual conference in Harrogate.

GCSEs will become a less significant barrier for 16-year-olds to overcome in the future, a head teachers' leader has predicted.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, believes that the importance of the exam as a stepping stone to post-16 education will decrease, as more pupils stay on in education and the types of courses available increases.

"For many years, we have been advocating a 14-19 curriculum structure, without the artificial and outdated divide at 16.

"Year on year it becomes increasingly apparent that ... what is required is to end the national curriculum and have a post-14 qualifications structure with a variety of pathways for both young people and lifelong learners."

And he says the government's choice of success at GCSE as a key target for secondary schools is "disastrous", and one which will lead to the neglect of both the most and least able pupils.

Mr Dunford was speaking at his union's annual conference in Harrogate, a week after the government announced new targets for schools based on the percentage of their pupils achieving five or more "good" passes, at grades A* to C.

The government has warned that schools in which fewer than 15% of those pupils hit this target over three years will be considered for a "fresh start".

Under pressure

But Mr Dunford said: "If we are going to have a measure, it should be expressed in points score, giving recognition to all levels of achievement."

"If schools are put under more pressure to get more children over the C-grade benchmark, they will put all their extra resources into the children who can achieve that.

"They will concentrate on the youngsters who might get a D, but could get a C, and the resources will not be put into the borderline B/A pupils, or those who might not get a GCSE at all."

Superheads

Mr Dunford said he believed the government would be forced to change its targets, as they appeared increasingly out of date. An A*-C grade GCSE pass is the equivalent of an O-level pass - an exam which was abolished 12 years ago.

He said: "Eventually, I expect that a big exam at age 16 ... will take on less and less importance. There will be exams youngsters take at that age, but as more youngsters stay on after 16, it will increasingly not be seen as an end point."

Education Minister Baroness Blackstone told the conference that it would be "foolish to take any single percentage and say that below that, a big stick will be wielded right down to deciding that closure is required".

But speaking to journalists after making her speech, she insisted that the targets would remain unchanged.

Mr Dunford later said that the idea of "superheads", the 100,000-a-year head teachers the government is planning to make responsible for boosting the performance of groups of underachieving schools, could work in theory.

But he said: "It is very unclear what the role of these people will be, and it is very unclear what they will take responsibility for and what the head of the governing body will be responsible for."

See also:

01 Mar 00 | UK Education
10 Mar 00 | Teachers Pay
23 Aug 99 | UK Education
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