Students would welcome a fairer and more challenging GCSE qualification

On the day Michael Gove announces GCSE reform, a survey commissioned by assessment body Cambridge Assessment shows that 51% of students on the UK’s largest student community website, The Student Room, think the current GCSE system doesn’t offer equal opportunities to all participants.

Many students commented on the inconsistency of teaching quality and the fact that grade boundaries differ between England and Wales.  The range of exam boards, some of which are seen to be easier by both students and teachers, also came in for criticism.

There were many suggestions for change including: switching from linear to modular exams and vice versa, removing all coursework and vice versa, and banning re-takes. Several felt that everyone should take the same tier of the same exam written by the same board – but others liked the idea of a two-tier – or even a three-tier exam and/or system.  Other ideas included a move towards a US-style system, a ‘norm-referencing’ approach to results and making exams harder with ‘richer’ ‘more relevant’ content and the testing of the application of knowledge in order to ‘bridge the gap’ between A-Level and GCSEs. Some felt that changes to the system would be disruptive and costly.

Direct student quotes:

“I think everyone should be given the same qualification to make it fair for everyone”

“I would make GCSEs a little bit more challenging so that it could bridge the gap between GCSEs and A-level study.”

“I would change the current GCSE qualification, and in so doing, make it harder for people to just rote learn the syllabus and the mark schemes and get a good grade without actually understanding the subject.”

“I would change them to test a wider range of abilities. It seems to be the case that GCSEs are too easy for the more capable students, and too difficult for the less capable students.”

Other survey findings included:

20% of students think GCSEs are too easy

40% of students think the GCSE qualification is easier compared with equivalent exams around the world

17% of people think GCSEs aren’t useful because they have no importance as soon as you get the next qualification

75% of students don’t think high-ability students should sit a different qualification to everyone else

13% felt they weren’t well enough prepared for their GCSE exams

Jamie O’Connell, Marketing Director of The Student Room, commented, “We welcome any changes to the GCSE qualification that make it more consistent and help level the playing field for students.

“Currently GCSEs are little more than a license to continue to the next stage of study. They suffer from an image problem and lack credibility as a standalone qualification. We welcome any change that will help GCSEs stand alone as world class, not least for students choosing not to continue to A-Level and beyond as they need to be taken seriously by employers.”

1032 students were surveyed In Aug/Sept 2012 by The Student Room

Pick up the debate in The Student Rooms UK education forum