'All schools should be free to drop GCSEs'

All schools should be given the freedom to ditch GCSEs in favour of a new baccalaureate qualification for 16-year-olds, the headteacher of one of the country's leading independent schools will say tomorrow.

Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College, will argue that all schools should be free to adopt the International Baccalaureate's middle years programme for 13 to 16-year-olds.

His own school and Dartford Grammar School, a selective state school, are pioneering the new qualification. Dr Seldon expects most of his pupils to opt for it instead of GCSEs from September.

Heads have claimed GCSEs no longer stretch the brightest pupils enough or prepare them for A-level studies. Dr Seldon says the new IBO (International Baccalaureate Organisation) MYP – as it is called – gives schools more freedom to design their own curriculum.

Under it, teenagers have to engage in eight compulsory areas of study – including languages, humanities, technology and science. All pupils would also take English and maths to GCSE level as well. Courses have to be approved by the IBO.

Dr Seldon said that at present, state schools had no choice but to stick with GCSEs in order to be ranked for the Government's exam league tables.

The IBO MYB programme has won the support of both the Oxford and Cambridge heads of admission.

Geoff Parks, head of admissions at Cambridge, said: "It seems clear that for many pupils the current standard of education provision in years 9 to 11 [the years before GCSEs] is decidedly uninteresting, uninspiring and unchallenging. This proposal should provide a much more engaging, stimulating and generally satisfactory experience."