GCSEs and A-levels should be scrapped in favor of a new system of assessment to better prepare school-leavers for the workplace, according to a report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI).
It has called for radical change in the education system if England’s students are to thrive in a world increasingly shaped by automation and artificial intelligence.
But a report released at the same time by the Institute for Government (IfG) warned that while the qualifications were “certainly imperfect”, proposals to overhaul the system “typically exaggerate the benefits while failing to acknowledge the costs”.
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In its report – Ending the Big Squeeze on Skills: How to Futureproof Education in England – the TBI recommended replacing the current exams system with a new qualification, involving multiple, rigorous forms of continuous assessment between the ages of 16 and 18.
The TBI suggested a new qualification for 18-year-olds could “draw on and refine the principles that underpin the International Baccalaureate”, with a series of low-stakes assessments for pupils at the end of secondary schooling, at the age of 16, “to help inform pupil choice and hold schools to account.”
The report said the current set-up relies too heavily on passive forms of learning focused on direct instruction and memorizing.
It warned there must be more emphasis on the so-called four Cs – critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaborative problem-solving.
Other recommendations include:
• Establishing an expert commission to reform the national curriculum to base it on minimum proficiencies for numeracy, literacy and science, and to eventually incorporate more digital skills
• Transferring responsibility for the design of the curriculum to a non-political and statutorily independent body.
• Changing the schools watchdog Ofsted’s strategy and approach to focus on safeguarding and quality of school management
• Creating student-owned learner IDs and digital profiles
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James Scales, skills policy lead at the TBI, said: “Young people in England are receiving an analogue education in a digital age and leaving school ill-prepared for the workplace.
“While pupils elsewhere are learning how to think critically, communicate and solve problems as a group, our system remains firmly anchored in the past. This is holding back our young people and the country as a whole.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the report adds to growing calls for “fresh thinking” on qualifications, the curriculum and inspection “to remove the clutter of over-burdened timetables, reduce the ridiculously high-stakes nature of the current system, and, most importantly, make sure that it works better for all children and young people.”
He said reform is needed because “at the current rate of progress the attainment gap between disadvantaged and other children will never close”.
A-level grades lower than last two years but higher than pre-pandemic levels
But the IfG’s Sam Freedman said “drastic reform of the exam system is the last thing we need”, instead calling for “a new model of incremental improvement in assessment” – such as moving assessments online or using Artificial Intelligence (AI) for marking.
He added: “Education systems are interconnected and changing one major component can cause upheaval dramatically elsewhere.
“Moreover, the last thing schools need as they deal with the after-effects of the pandemic and ever tighter funding is another assessment revolution.
“Instead, [my report] argues that the education system in England should move to a new model of incremental improvement rather than periods of stasis followed by highly disruptive change.”
A spokesman at the Department for Education said: “Every young person deserves the opportunity to benefit from a rich and fulfilling curriculum which equips them with the skills to succeed – whatever their chosen path.
“GCSEs and A-levels are highly-respected around the world and we have also introduced T-levels as the new gold standard technical qualification for young people post-16.”