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GCSE … Generation Covid’s Sham Exam


‘THE problem with the Tesla, and all the other electric cars from Jaguar, Porsche and BMW, is that they’re trying to be cars. When, of course, they are not cars. They are auxiliary transport solutions.’ 

This verdict on electric cars by petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson could be applied equally to a new-style GCSE ‘exam’ being generated for next summer.  

The exam boards have been asked by their regulator, Ofqual, to prepare short GCSE exams to replace the real thing. The plan is for a single 90-minute paper in each subject. They will be sat in early spring if, as is likely, the Covid-19 panic continues and the real exams have to be cancelled

The problem, of course, is that these new GCSEs cannot possibly measure up to what they claim to be. The Government has promised that exams will go ahead next summer, come what may. In Clarksonian terminology, these new electric-quick GCSEs qualify to be termed an auxiliary examination solution.  

If they have to be deployed the Government will, of course, claim that they are still real exams … but real exams they will not be. With a sub-20 per cent pass mark and knowledge-lite content, after all, even the real exams are not real exams. 

To discover the real thing, we need to look at what is on offer in much higher-performing education systems such as Singapore, South Korea or China. Ironically, Singapore’s equivalent to GCSE is the GCE O-Level; an examination that, until 1988, was the bedrock of public assessment here, too.  

These days it is still set by our Cambridge Board, part of the OCR group, but is for export only. By not appearing on the Department for Education’s list of approved qualifications and thereby not qualifying for the signature of the Education Secretary, O-Level is effectively banned. It is a prohibited qualification for home nation students. 

In planning for 2021 examinations, the Scottish government has been first off the mark. It has cancelled all National 5 exams – equivalent to GCSE. The Welsh exam regulator has urged its government to take the same line with GCSE. The notoriously unreliable teacher predictions are back on the table. Should we care?

If UK governments could only admit that pretend exam grades are genuinely fake, the exam grade acrimony boil could be lanced. We encourage children to tell the truth. It is time for the Department for Education to do so, too. Amongst its many failings, there is little to best this government’s inability to face up to reality. 

The credibility of public examinations has been exhausted by dumbed-down content, grade inflation and absurdly low ‘pass’ marks.  It matters not a jot whether we have the fake fraudulence of real exams or the fraudulent fake of teacher predictions linked to new short GCSEs. 

As Clarkson opines: ‘I’m sure it would be possible to make an electric dog that could be programmed to bark at burglars and lie by the fire on chilly evenings. But would it be an actual dog? Would you want to tickle it behind its ears and take it for walks? No.’ 

Much the same might be said of our real exams, our fake exams and our teacher predictions. None of them are what they claim to be. They are all, to some extent, counterfeit currency.  

Teacher predictions or short exams or full-length exams? Take your choice! Everyone’s a winner because the educational world is a land of make-believe! 

We just need to ensure that the examination certificates are honest enough to make this clear. 

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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