A less rigid approach needed towards required GCSE subjects

There's nothing wrong with encouraging more pupils to take up subjects like languages and science – but compulsion goes too far

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John Cridland, the director-general of the CBI, has a point when he asks why we are persevering with the GCSE exam at 16 when we are insisting that all teenagers should remain in education and training until they are 18. Indeed he has put his finger on a contradiction in current Government education policy.

On the one hand we heard during the election campaign (not only from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan but also from her opposite number, Labour’s Tristram Hunt,) how schools should devote more time to building their pupils’ self-confidence, character and communication skills.

On the other hand we have the reforms to the GCSE exam outlined by Ms Morgan this week which state that every pupil should study the five subjects of the English Baccalaureate – English, maths, science, a language and history or geography – to GCSE level.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging more pupils to take up subjects like languages and science – ranking schools on the EBacc does that – but compulsion goes too far. The Government’s edict means too many students will be studying something they are not good at until they reach the age of 16.

Lord Baker, the pioneer of the University Technology College movement – which offers high-quality vocational education to 14- to 19-year-olds – is already campaigning to seek exemption for the UTCs, plus studio schools and careers colleges, from the requirement.

He should get it – but there are other schools in the country whose pupils would benefit from a less rigid approach to what they have to study at secondary level.

Of course, in the unlikely event that Mr Cridland succeeds in his call for the Government to scrap the GCSE, that would bring the argument to an end.