Teenagers who fail the Government's flagship new English baccalaureate should take pride in that achievement, one of the country's leading headmistresses said today.
Helen Wright, president of the Girls' School Association, said: "I would be prepared to stand up and say people should be proud of not quite getting it."
The qualification – known as the "E Bacc" – will be given to those who get five A* to C-grade passes in English, maths, science, languages and humanities – history or geography – in their GCSEs, results of which are out today.
Dr Wright, head of St Mary's school in Calne, Wiltshire, told The Independent she was "not a big fan" of the GCSE. She said she believed it was "a test of basic skills and school-leaving certificate" which was no longer relevant now so many young people were staying on in education after they reached 16.
But the English baccalaureate, introduced into exam league tables this year, was a sign ministers were taking GCSEs increasingly seriously.
"I have no quarrel with the idea you should have English, maths, science and language awareness," she said, "or the idea that you should have cultural awareness but it's the terrible restriction on the humanities to just history and geography that I am against.
"Surely religious studies, the study of world faiths, is all about developing our cultural understanding of the human race yet it doesn't count."
It was possible for a pupil to gain 10 or 11 A* and A grade passes in a broad range of subjects – including arts and drama – yet fail the E Bacc. Instead, Dr Wright would prefer to see GCSEs replaced with tests in a range of subjects by the age of 14.
Her criticism of GCSEs coincided with the announcement that one of the country's leading independent schools was planning to ditch the English Literature GCSE, and replace it with its own accredited certificate.
"The Malvern Literature Certificate replaces the GCSE, which we've found to be less challenging and exciting than one we could produce ourselves," said headmaster Anthony Clark.