I have heard these arguments many times before. Young people are examined too much; let their teachers assess them at 16 instead of them sitting public exams; assess them with our gold-standard A levels. This, they say, will show that we trust teachers to assess effectively; it will save money as we won't be paying fees to exam boards; and we teachers will spend less time teaching to the test, freeing up time for wider study and other pursuits. Who could argue with such reasonable suggestions?
However, many schools like my own are 11-16 only. My students are with me for five years and then move on to further education colleges, apprenticeships and jobs. These students would have no measure of attainment, externally validated, to mark the end of their time here – no indication of their achievement at 16 that would be universally recognised by colleges or employers in the next stage of their life.
And my staff would have no measure of how well their students fared against national standards, of where they did well for their students or where they could have done better.
How would parents judge whether to send their child to my school? Visiting is important to understand the ethos, but many parents – myself included – also want an assurance that their child would progress academically. If the students left with only a school certificate I'm not sure how much credibility they would have, even if they had come from Eton.
GCSEs also give pupils an opportunity to study across a number of subjects. They take nine or 10 GCSEs but only three or four A-levels. This broader study at GCSE helps students decide what subjects they are most likely to be successful in at A level.
That decision is based not only on the experience of the two years of study but also on the ability to demonstrate knowledge, skills and understanding under exam conditions – the very skill they will need for A-level study and beyond.
The writer is the headteacher of Woodside High School, a comprehensive in Tottenham, North London