Education

Scrap GCSEs and A-levels, says Tony Blair Institute in call for ‘radical reform’


GCSEs and A-levels should be scrapped in favour of a system that better prepares school-leavers for the workplace, a report has suggested.

The study conducted by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) has recommended that the education system in England be radically changed so that students can thrive in a work environment that is becoming increasingly shaped by automation and artificial intelligence.

The current educational landscape in England relies too heavily on passive forms of learning focused on direct instruction and memorising and needs more emphasis on the so-called four Cs – critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaborative problem-solving, the organisation said.

Recommending replacing the exams system with new qualifications that involve regular assessment between 16 and 18 years old, the report suggested that a series of low-stakes assessments for pupils at the end of secondary schooling could “help inform pupil choice and hold schools to account”.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Sir Tony Blair said of the current system: “While there is a place for these sorts of exams, we cannot rely on them alone: they only measure certain skills, they do not always do this accurately, and they invite narrow teaching styles aimed at passing tests rather than building other key aptitudes.

“We have analogue learning for a digital age: a paper-based system that revolves around snapshot judgments instead of assessing whether schools are preparing young people for the future they face. In the meantime, some of the world’s top performers are forging ahead.”

James Scales, skills policy lead at the TBI, said: “While pupils elsewhere are learning how to think critically, communicate and solve problems as a group, our system remains anchored firmly in the past. This is holding back our young people and the country as a whole. Without the radical reform required to produce a new generation of forward thinkers, we won’t build the high-wage, high-skilled economy we need.”

The report recommends establishing an expert commission to reform the national curriculum, one based on minimum proficiencies in numeracy, literacy and science, which will eventually incorporate more digital skills. It also cites transferring the responsibility for the design of the curriculum to a non-political body and changing the strategy and approach of Ofsted, the schools watchdog, to focus on safeguarding and quality of school management, as integral to the proposed changes.

The focus on a small range of traditional academic subjects, which are referred to as the English baccalaureate, or Ebacc, is causing other subjects to be overlooked, meaning government reforms have damaged learning and “stifled efforts to improve social mobility”, the report added.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the report adds to growing calls for “fresh thinking” on qualifications, the curriculum and inspection. Reform is needed because “at the current rate of progress the attainment gap between disadvantaged and other children will never close. We need a system which looks to the future rather than one which is rooted in the past,” he said.

A spokesperson from the Department for Education said: “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.”



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