GCSEs should be overhauled, Ofsted's Sir Michael Wilshaw says


Sir Michael Wilshaw: "The issue is whether our examination system stands up with best in world"

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GCSE exams should be "thoroughly overhauled," the chief schools inspector in England has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw's comments come after the refusal of exam regulator Ofqual to order exam boards to regrade this summer's GCSEs in English.

The regulator acknowledged grade boundaries had changed between January and June, but offered only resits.

Sir Michael said the row was a "really good opportunity" to examine whether examinations were "rigorous enough".

Teaching unions are angered that many pupils now face the prospect of resitting exams rather than having their papers automatically regraded.

They claim those who sat the exam in June were at a disadvantage, compared with those who had sat English GCSE earlier in the year, because the summer's exams were marked over-harshly after Ofqual told exam boards to keep an eye on grade inflation.

Falling standards

Sir Michael, who is head of Ofsted, told the Andrew Marr programme that the matter was an issue for Ofqual.

But he added: "This is a really good opportunity for our system and the secretary of state to look at our examination system and ask whether it is rigorous enough, whether it's credible enough, whether what's happened over the last few years in terms of resits, early entries and the modular approach to to examination is actually raising standards".

He said that the issue was "not really summer against January and what happened last year as opposed to this".

"It is whether our examination system stands up with the best in the world.

"One of the worries I have and I know other people have, is that our standards are falling in relation to other countries in the rest of the world.

"English is the world language, it is the business language. We know that we have fallen from 7th in reading to 25th in the world. In maths from 7th to 28th. That is not good enough. We've got to look at what is happening in the rest of the world.

"Our youngsters, when they leave school, will be going into a global marketplace, they have to compete not just against competitors here but the rest of the world."

Sir Michael also said that the end of the "satisfactory" grading for schools was "not window dressing, it is not just changing the terminology".

Ofsted is to replace its "satisfactory" grading with a "requires improvement" grading.

School improvements

Sir Michael added: "Two-thirds of our schools are good or better. We have got a third of schools, 6,000 schools that are not good, that are satisfactory and below.

"We have to make sure that schools know they have got to get to good soon as possible. We have given them a prescribed period of time, up to four years, in which to get to good.

"Inspectors will be spending more time in lessons now than ever before. We won't be looking at as much paperwork as we used to do. It is about being in the heart of the school, looking at what really matters, which is what is happening in the classroom."

He also said that the "big issue" is that head teachers have to lead teaching. "They are not head administrators or organisers or head business managers, they are head teachers."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron has dismissed criticism of the fall in GCSE results in an article in the Mail on Sunday.

He said he he planned to reverse "dumbing down" and he refused to "cave in" to teaching unions who prefer to "pretend standards are rising each year".

"'All must have prizes' is not just patronising, it is cruel - and with us it is over," he added.

And Mr Cameron said there would be "no more excuses for failure in schools, no more soft exams and soft discipline".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    Do those in power actually believe teachers are deliberately underperforming? Will just telling teachers to improve make it happen? If you sack the "incompetent" teachers where is the queue of better educators to replace them? It is not enough to say that something isn't working, we need to be told exactly what needs to be done to make it better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    I have to agree with the need for reform. But we need reform which isn't ideological.

    As an A-Level student who gained very high grades I can honestly say my maths are not up to it. There was help at college, only for the "borderline" students. So yes I feel let down by the education system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    Children who are academically weak are labelled as Failures. Labour have tried to stop this snobbery, they tried to be more inclusive, but they failed and bankrupted the exam system.

    Bring back exam rigour, but also raise the esteem of the vocational & technical options. Lose the snobbery!
    I did Genetics, my friend did Joinery. Guess who's on 40K and who is on 20K.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Let's waste some more money on pointless undeliverable change and jobs for the boys. Politics on both sides of the fence drives ideological nonsense that does not serve the delivery of good education. It only needs minor improvement because the teachers are generally brilliant and deliver a great education already. Pragmatism would serve us better than political lies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Lets stop pretending that children are getting more or less stupid year on year.

    Exam boards move grade boundaries in theory to make one year’s exams comparable to the next. They should just be honest and classify students based on percentile - that is how they performed relative to their peers nationally. Unfortunately, telling someone the're in the bottom 10% apparently isn't palatable.


Comments 5 of 9


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