High number of GCSEs can harm pupils, Ofsted warns

Bright teenagers should not be pushed to study excessive numbers of GCSE exams or to start A-level courses early, Ofsted inspectors have warned. Students who take 10 or 12 GCSE instead of the usual eight or nine often fail to study their subjects in enough depth, and the massive workload can cause stress, a study of above-average pupils has found.

Bright teenagers should not be pushed to study excessive numbers of GCSE exams or to start A-level courses early, Ofsted inspectors have warned. Students who take 10 or 12 GCSE instead of the usual eight or nine often fail to study their subjects in enough depth, and the massive workload can cause stress, a study of above-average pupils has found.

The Government has introduced schemes to stretch the brightest students including encouraging schools to enter them for exams early. The number of them taking GCSEs early has risen steadily over the past five years from 30,000 to more than 45,000. But some pupils found themselves out of their depth, and lost confidence in their ability in a subject after being pushed to take on too much too soon, inspectors said in their study of bright students aged 14 to 16.

Even the best of them can feel overloaded after being encouraged to take up to 12 GCSEs. Inspectors found little evidence that pupils derived benefit from their extra courses. Students who took on extra ones were not as involved in extra-curricular activities as they wanted to be.

But headteachers said many teenagers enjoy the challenge of extra courses. Frances Astley-Jones scored the best exam results in the country last summer, accumulating an impressive 16 top grades in GCSE and AS exams. But she said she enjoyed all her subjects and had no regrets.

She said she always made time for out-of-school interests such as sport and sailing. "I had to attend after-school classes in German to fit everything in and I put a lot of hard work in at home," she said. "I just try my hardest. You only get one life and you may as well make the most of it." Frances, who hopes to read medicine at Cambridge University, is studying for six A levels, to add to the A grade in AS pure mathematics she won last summer.

Roger Conibear, headteacher at her school, Denbigh School, in Milton Keynes, said Frances had always managed to juggle academic work with a wide range of interests. "She's rather normal," he said. "She loves sport and plays an instrument. She's just extremely bright. She is very friendly but definitely knows what she wants out of life. It's exceptional for someone to get 15 GCSEs. For all of them to be starred is even more exceptional."

Tony Neal, headteacher of De Aston School, in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire and past president of the Secondary Heads Association, said that many students thrived on the challenge of extra exams

"There's no need for anybody to be taking a large number of GCSEs," he said. "But for some bright youngsters it gives them a challenge that they enjoy. But I am sure the inspectors are right and some young people miss out on some extra-curricular activities.

"At my school, nine or 10 GCSEs would be the norm. But we offer some extra subjects 'off timetable', such as dance GCSE after school and Latin at lunchtimes. That isn't about getting people to do 12 or 13 subjects; it's about enabling them to choose from a wide range of courses."

Schools that had experimented with schemes to push the brightest students to take GCSEs a year early and move on to AS-level courses at 16 were "generally uncertain" about the merits of this approach. Some were planning to abandon this approach, saying pupils were becoming overloaded by the demands of AS-level modules on top of their remaining GCSE subjects.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: MIS Officer - Further Education Sector

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating throughout London and...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015