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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 11:37 GMT
GCSEs under threat
Could GCSEs soon be no more?
Plans to allow able teenagers in England to bypass GCSE examinations could spell the end of the qualification, some education campaigners fear.

The new fast-track approach is part of the government's Green Paper which aims to give students in England greater freedom from the compulsory curriculum, except in the core subjects of maths, English, science and information technology.

It looks like the beginning of the end

Nick Seaton, Campaign for Real Education
Students will also get the chance to study for vocational GCSE courses in subjects such as health, leisure and tourism and engineering.

Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, expressed concern, saying the move could see GCSEs phased out within five years.

"It looks like the beginning of the end. It doesn't say much for GCSE standards if they think bright youngsters don't have to take it," said Mr Seaton.

He said the government should get the "basics" right in all schools before tinkering with the fundamentals of the curriculum.

"There's a natural break at 16 and to move it forward to 14 seems to be tinkering with the system in quite a major way."

Changing patterns

But, as more and more young people opt to stay on in school beyond the age of 16 to sit AS- and A-level, the need for an official qualification at this age is becoming less clear.

And the government is keen to keep more students in education until the age of 19, studying for vocational qualifications if they are not suited to the academic route towards a university degree.

The Liberal Democrats have long been campaigning for the abolition of the GCSE.

The party's education spokesman, Phil Willis, said the GCSE was "an outdated exam".

"It is one which is age-related and, quite frankly, for many many youngsters at both ends of the academic spectrum, it fails to achieve what it set out to do," said Mr Willis.

The GCSE barrier must be removed so that schools, colleges and employers can innovate and tailor courses to the needs of individual students

Phil Willis
Half the pupil population failed to get five GCSEs at levels A to C last year and 30,000 youngsters left school with no qualifications, he said.

"We can't go on like that, simply saying half our youngsters are written off at 16 because they don't meet this particular standard.

"We have to keep them in education, we have to ensure that courses and examination structures are for their needs.

"If we are to provide a genuine new commitment to our 14-19 year olds then the GCSE barrier must be removed so that schools, colleges and employers can innovate and tailor courses to the needs of individual students," Mr Willis said.


The Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, said she had no "immediate plans" to abolish any existing qualifications.

The Conservatives accused the government of being "completely unable to make up its mind whether the GCSE is a useful exam".

"Yesterday vocational exams were re-badged as GCSEs to increase their credibility," said shadow Education Secretary, Damian Green.

"Today the government says the GCSE is unnecessary for academic pupils. Either the GCSE is a good qualification or it isn't," he said.

See also:

12 Feb 02 | Education
Bright students 'to skip' GCSEs
02 Jun 01 | Education
Exams stretch schools to the limit
05 Jun 01 | Education
Goodbye GCSEs?
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