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June 21, 2012

The Real Problem With GCSEs is That So Many Are Allowed to Fail

By Spear's

The real problem isn’t that GCSEs are getting easier, it’s that one in three people are nevertheless failing them.

One of the more embarrassing incidents of my very embarrassing school career was when my mother received a call from the head saying that my nanny was harassing my teacher, sending her daily love letters. Now this might not sound like something I should be embarrassed about – apart from the letters were in my handwriting.

I was around eight at the time, and I do vaguely recall my nanny dictating love letters to Mrs F for me to write down for her. Why I never thought of this as weird, I can’t really explain, and in fact it only became something embarrassing, and yes very funny, years later.

The unfunny part, of course, was that my nanny was asking me to write the letter for her because she was embarrassed to do it herself. Not because she wanted anonymity (she signed off with her own name), but because she didn’t want to be shown up for making spelling mistakes. In that way, school had failed her.The reason I mention this is because I feel that the current GCSE/O Level debate is missing the most important point. Last year the percentage of grades A*-C went up to a record-breaking 69.8 per cent, and we had the same complaints that GCSEs were becoming too easy.

But equally this means that almost one in three people failed to get above a grade C in their GCSEs. If you can’t achieve a grade C in English Language, it means that you will struggle to read, understand and draw conclusions from a short, everyday text, to compose an argument or write a letter.

In short, it means that you are functionally illiterate. If you leave school aged 16 with no GCSEs  — as a shocking number of children in the UK do —  this will limit your chances in life hugely. Not will you struggle to find work, but you’ll have difficulty defending your interests with a well-worded complaint letter or sending a love letter, for that matter.

In Holland pupils who fail their end of year exams are made to re-sit the year until they pass. It’s often a strong incentive for the naturally lazy to work hard enough to pass first time round, but it also means that unlike in the UK, pupils aren’t just allowed to fail. The real problem isn’t that GCSEs are getting easier, it’s that one in three people are nevertheless failing them. 
Read more by Sophie McBain

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