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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 August, 2004, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Is the GCSE still a valid qualification?
Student celebrating GCSE results
GCSE results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have shown the biggest increase in top grades since 1999.

Almost 60% of students were awarded grades between A* and C - a 1.1 percentage point rise on last year.

Girls generally continue to outperform boys although the so-called "gender gap" is narrowing.

You put your questions to David Miliband, School Standards Minister in an interactive forum

School Standards minister David Miliband has described the results as reflecting the hard work of pupils and teachers.

However, the Conservatives have said there should be less coursework and the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman has called for the exams to be scrapped.

How did you get on? Is the GCSE still a valid qualification ? Or should there be more vocational courses? Do you think that exams are getting easier? Should there be more emphasis on basic skills of numeracy and literacy?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

Exam results may be better, but the quality of all-round education is definitely poorer
Nigel, Redhill, Surrey
Show me a modern GCSE or A Level student and 9 times out of 10 I will show you somebody who cannot write correct grammar, spell correctly, do mental arithmetic or tell you the name of the President of the EU. Exam results may be better, but the quality of all-round education is definitely poorer.
Nigel, Redhill, Surrey

OK, so we've rubbished the A levels and the GCSE's. And I hear that the tests at 7, 11 and 14 years show improvements too, presumably this means that standards in these tests are down as well? So that leaves 8, 9, 10, 12, and 13 year olds free of criticism. Surely that can't be fair! Their standards must be down too, its just that there aren't any tests to prove it, but why should that stop us, let's just say they are probably rubbish too, or will be by the time they get to 16.
Andrew, Cirencester, UK

The GCSE does it's job which is only to differentiate between all the people who took it in a given year
Alistair, Cheshire, UK
In Hong Kong their GCSE grades are offset lower so that a B in maths is far superior than a top A* here. In Hong Kong pupils are delighted with a B grade and an A grade is truly exceptional. This is a true measure of performance shown on a representative scale. It is meaningless if everyone gets an A for every exam they take. I don't know how anyone can explain increased pass rates by saying that pupils or teachers are just getting better because such high rates of improvement aren't possible - it must be easier exams. At the end of the day the GCSE does it's job which is only to differentiate between all the people who took it in a given year. Universities still use GCSEs as an important indicator for admissions because it does exactly that. For anyone else GCSE's are of little use.
Alistair, Cheshire, UK

I'm a 15 year old student, and am in the middle of the two year GCSE course. It is a lot of work, for a load of exam results that (as people have pointed out) employers etc may not take much notice of in the future. For me personally though, I've found the exam process useful. I'm more aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and I am capable of motivating myself. Getting good results is a huge morale boost for me.
Mels, Northants

It would only take a simple experiment to see if exams (A Levels / GCSE's) have become easier. Why not let current students sit 25 year old exam papers. I suppose they would now complain that they hadn't been taught the correct methodology or some such other "excuse"
Toby, Gloucestershire

I would really love to see you take yours and show the world how brainy you are
Kirsty , Portsmouth Hampshire
I tried really hard with my GCSE's and put in a lot of effort. All these critics that say GCSE'S are getting easier, I would really love to see you take yours and show the world how brainy you are. I am now very pleased and proud to say that today I managed to get 5 B's 2 C's and a D.
Kirsty , Portsmouth Hampshire

No, absolutely not! the government needs to urgently set up a "think-tank" public inquiry as to how to overcome our diabolical education system so that standards can be vastly improved from 2005 onwards. Perhaps we should simply copy the French system and save the expense of a public referendum on the subject. Britain is rapidly sliding into the status of a third world country as is the laughing stock of educationalists in the international arena! It's time for a change . . . An URGENT change!
Ralph, Chelsea, London

Are any British valid qualification's of any note any more?. Time to change and bring in a European wide qualification.
Clive, Dartford, UK

However hard the exams may be, the students are not at fault. According to the students they are working incredibly hard to achieve good results.
Amrit, Leicester

How on earth can an 'E' be a pass?
James, Llandudno
The coursework issue is right, what's the point of copying all year, turning up and writing your name on the exam paper and getting a 'b' all because your mate did well in the coursework? Youngsters today are not hard to learn, i don't doubt they're getting easier. How on earth can an 'E' be a pass?
James, Llandudno

As a teacher who has had experience of delivering GCSE, A level, AVCE and HE and Professional awards it is worrying how low the standards have become. What is perhaps worse is the implicit collaboration of the examining boards and Govt inspectors (Ofsted) in maintaining this charade.
Eddie, Nottingham, UK

Why can't we simply accept the facts that teaching standards have improved, children are working harder and parents are taking a greater interest in their children's education? I would suggest that a hearty congratulations to all including to the Minister of Education for getting it right would not go unwanted.
Raymond Rudaizky, London, U.K.

After a year or two results become meaningless, giving way to work experience. Thus comparing results with previous years is pointless. All that really matters is how well you do against exam takers in the same year
David Jones, New York, USA

Why don't they lower the standards still further?
Tessa Lewis, Bristol
I was a teacher for ten years in secondary schools and left the profession in 1988. GCE, as it then was, was a competitive examination in that students obtained a given grade on a percentage basis. This was possible because the numbers taking the exam were pretty consistent from year to year. How things have changed. Why don't they lower the standards still further so that 35, 40, 45% of students get As. What difference will it make to a devalued qualification? It's think of a number time.
Tessa Lewis, Bristol

When will the government learn? GCSEs are only useful for those going into further education. We need a system that allows greater choice, with more vocational options available. If you go onto do A-levels and a degree afterwards, I suggest you choose your career carefully. Most employers ask for experience, NOT qualifications.
Tom Scott, Leicester

What I do know is that I am a very proud mum. My daughter and her friends have worked hard and achieved good results. They know that GCSEs are stepping stones. Don't knock them for the sake of it.
Sally Tucker, UK

I work in a school where our Head of Maths can no longer give current pupils GCSE papers from 4 years ago from which to practise, simply because the students find them too difficult. Of course, we're told standards are not slipping. Can Mr Miliband clarify his comments on how pleased he is that more students are taking Maths GCSE? This is a core subject and compulsory. They don't have a choice!!!
Kathy, Cranbrook, Kent

I have just worked really hard for the past 2 years
Lauren, Birmingham
I am fully aware that once A-levels have been taken they really do not count for much, but aside from that I think it is unfair for people to completely write them off. I have just worked really hard for the past 2 years, and find it annoying that having just achieved 10 A*s, I am being told that they do not count as qualifications.
Lauren, Birmingham

I received my GCSE results today and despite the fact that they may not be the most important qualifications available, they remain the first chance for students to show their ability. Saying that these results are worthless makes students who have worked hard for them feel worthless themselves. Allow the students receiving good grades to be pleased for themselves!

Of course the GCSE is still a valid qualification, as it still does its job of determining who is or is not capable of going on to study at A-level. While the number of top grades may have risen this year, we must not forget that half of all students fail to achieve 5 GCSEs at C grade or above.
Carl Jackson, Chalfont St Giles, UK

Competition between students for places has been replaced by competition between examining boards
Anthony Scott, Redhill, UK
The downturn in standards has been led from above. Competition between students for places has been replaced by competition between examining boards for the largest number of passes. At one time, only a percentage of O-level students would go on to take A-levels. The relative sparseness of university places would dictate a more stringent grading process, the whole point being to ensure that only those suited to degree level education got to university. Now, students are not separated at 16, and subsequently are not separated at 18. Thus far too many of them go on to university.
Anthony Scott, Redhill, UK

Here's a plan. Get all the education "experts" who keep telling us how much standards are lowering, and get them to actually sit some modern exams. Maybe then they'll be in a position to tell us what a soft-touch young people are today.
Chris, Leicester, UK

I could not care less how many GCSEs a potential employee has
Steven McGee, UK
I remember how easy it was to pass GCSEs. Anything less than a B required no effort. Now I am an employer and I could not care less how many GCSEs a potential employee has. They are not qualifications as they do not qualify youngsters to do anything. I'm all for education to a reasonable level (A-levels and degrees) but please don't pretend to our children that GCSEs have any value in themselves.
Steven McGee, UK

Last year's Channel 4 series which put A grade students through the same exams of 50 years ago proved that they were unable to perform to the same standard. Surely the core skills of maths and English are exactly the same now as then, so there should be no difference in results. Similarly, the series currently running has already shown that some teenagers prefer and can benefit from more vocational courses. Like your other correspondents I feel it's time for a major rethink, which involves consultation with businesses and industry outlining their basic requirements.
Anne, Harlow, UK

The main purpose of any exam is to provide an entry to the next level. This means either taking more difficult exams or moving onto paid employment. If you go on to harder exams the GCSE simply passes into history as a stepping stone. Similarly if you get a job. The GCSEs appear to achieve this function pretty well so clearly they are relevant and valid.
John, London

No, and unfortunately the A-level is beginning to go that way too. I personally get quite angry when I hear Mr Miliband telling everyone that 'students are harder working, brighter and leave school better qualified than ever before' when almost every other suitably qualified commentator on the subject (university professors, teachers, blue-chip employers etc) say quite clearly the opposite.
Tom K, London

Let all the people who have just passed GCSE and A-levels sit exam papers from 25 years ago
Tim, UK
Simple. Let all the people who have just passed GCSE and A-levels sit exam papers from 25 years ago. I can already hear people saying 'but they're taught differently these days and learn different things' Yes, they're simply taught how to do exams and can have virtually passed them before they even enter the exam room. The old system had its faults, but ensured that students HAD to have a greater understanding of the subjects they were taught. That requirement has now gone.
Tim, UK

People work hard to do their best, only to hear comments that exams are easier. It's disheartening to see that their hard work is unappreciated. Of course GCSEs count! The whole of your secondary education comes down to those exams. Instead of criticising, you should be congratulating.
Hema, London

I took a Spanish GCSE as a private candidate at a local school (I'm 25) and was really surprised when it came to the written exam and I was the only one taking it. Surely this part of the exam is the most difficult and doing coursework (with a dictionary in front of you) does not test knowledge in the same way at all. I appreciate that some people perform badly in exams due to the stress of the situation but coursework marks are not always a real reflection of a persons abilities as getting outside help is usually all too tempting!
Jo, Norfolk

With the degree and the A-level being ridiculously devalued these days, and a lack of any clear path from the GCSE to a vocational course, the only value it provides is a rudimentary assessment of someone's ability to stick to a course of topic based work. It says nothing about real education, skill, or ability to perform. The fact that all grades are considered passes says it all really.
Susan, Bracknell, UK

Of course GCSEs and A-levels are no longer valid. The whole point of grades was to measure your ability relative to your peers. How can any distinction be made when everyone has As? Now the government is heading to devalue the degree too. Makes me wonder why I bothered all those years ago.... Another ten years of Labour and all I'll be qualified for is stacking shelves.
Anon, London

What is the point of GCSEs, A-levels and degrees, when once you've finished all you hear from employers is, "How much experience do you have? It is better to finish compulsory education and enrol on a training course where you will learn a trade and get the experience.
Rizwan Saleem, UK

If only 60% got A-C grades, what did the other 40% get? In my day, only A, B and C were passes! So, basically, as long as you turn up and get a grade D or E then you've passed! Not to put down students that work hard and genuinely achieve good exam results, but the system does seem to need reviewing to me.
Julia, Wales, UK

Whilst I welcome coursework as a fairer way of assessing ability than a single exam, it overwhelmingly favours the middle classes with access to computers, books and parental support at home. Teachers need to take into account that some working-class children lack these facilities due to an anti-education ethos at home, and assistance given accordingly. I also think that we need to provide youngsters at the bottom of the GCSE pile with a decent vocational alternative in order to re-engage them with education - there seems to be a growing division between those achieving 10 A* grades and those who barely manage one or two passes - that is if they don't get themselves excluded before they even reach the exam hall.
Rich Edwards, Leeds, UK

How can we distinguish between candidates at all levels if the top grades are achieved so readily?
Dave, Nottingham, UK
Whether exams are easier or teaching is better is not relevant. How can we distinguish between candidates at all levels if the top grades are achieved so readily? I've spoken to sixth formers thinking of medicine, and their basic skills are poor compared to my peers 10 years ago. Yet they all have (GCSE) or are predicted (A-level) top marks. Well done to all those who succeeded in their exams however, hard work is still involved.
Dave, Nottingham, UK

The GCSE qualification has been a waste of time for years as most employers want English, Maths and Science as basic qualification for a job. As far as going to Uni is concerned A-levels are the qualification to have. Anyone leaving school should have a basic qualification in English and maths which should allow them to get their first job, Uni contenders should carry on with A-levels.
Kevin, Wakefield

I pity the poor students who work so hard every year, to then get their well deserved good results rubbished by the media. We want better schooling from the government, yet when more investments are made into schools, we then complain about the improving results every year. Must we insist that a minority fail in order to keep everyone happy?
Kate, UK

I failed GCSEs but still went to university and passed my course. However it doesn't really tell an employer that you can actually do the job.
Derran, Wales

The GCSE is a valid qualification as if you leave school without a decent amount you will find it very, very hard to get a well paid, satisfying job as nearly all employers will want at least this level of achievement. It is also the key to being allowed to go on and do A-levels and thus opens up the world of higher education.
Nicola, London, UK

The GCSE is long invalid. As a large percentage of the final grade tied to coursework, this doesn't encourage children to learn. It encourages them to copy. Until exams are 100% exam paper then the grades achieved will increase yet the standard of student will deteriorate.
Scott, Rochester

I remember when I was studying for my O-levels in 1985 whilst my younger sister was studying for the new GSCE. She was doing her coursework at home and getting 30% of her final exam grade 12 months before sitting the exam based on this work whilst I had to cram in as much revision as possible to sit the final O-level exams. Which one do you think was easier????
Kev, UK

I think this has been done to death. The students, government and head teachers defend GCSE/A Levels, the business community, universities and some teachers condemn them. Time for a total re-think, I don't know the answers but the present situation is benefiting no-one.
David, London

So exam passes are rising and children are working harder. Absolute rubbish. With A-G being graded a pass now it seems turning up is a guarantee for passing. Course work and resubmissions are just a way for this government to make it appear they are improving education. Several studies have proven today's children do not have the skills or knowledge of similar age even 20 years ago.
Prodify, Manchester

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