Three in five wish GCSEs assessed teamwork and communication skills – poll

·2-min read

More than three in five young people wish they had been assessed in skills like teamwork or communication in their GCSEs rather than just academic subjects, a survey suggests.

Nearly two in five (39%) young people felt they had taken too many GCSEs, according to the report from exam board AQA.

But the survey, of more than 1,000 young people in England in August, suggests that nearly three in four (73%) are glad they took their GCSEs and 68% said they helped them move on to the next stage of their lives.

The findings come after the cancellation of exams for a second year in a row prompted some education leaders and politicians to call on ministers to consider reforming GCSEs in the post-Covid years.

The AQA report warns against any “radical or disruptive change” to GCSEs as it could “undermine the value and benefits” of the qualifications to students.

But the exam board recognises that GCSEs do not provide the same value to all students.

The survey, of young people who took their GCSEs in 2016 and 2017, found that 61% wanted their GCSEs to assess them in skills like teamwork or communication rather than just academic subjects.

And among students who received the lowest GCSE grades – the D–G or 3-1 range – nearly half (45%) said they felt that GCSEs did not help them move forward to the next stage of their education or career.

Meanwhile, 42% of these students said GCSEs did not help to motivate them or decide what to do next.

Last month, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) called for the number of terminal GCSE exams taken during pupils’ final summer at school to be scaled back.

In July, The Times reported that former prime minister Sir John Major had called for reform of the exam system as he disliked GCSEs due to the “stress and strain they impose on students”.

And earlier this year, Jane Prescott, head of Portsmouth High School and president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) at the time, suggested that ministers should reform “old-fashioned” GCSEs in the long term.

But Colin Hughes, chief executive of AQA, said: “The fact that such a huge majority of young people are glad they took GCSEs starkly contrasts with claims that exams at 16 are a bad thing.”

He added: “It’s important to remember that wanting to change the format or content of GCSEs and getting rid of them entirely are two very different things – and this is something people often confuse when discussing assessment reform.

“However, while there’s no compelling case for the abolition of GCSEs, they’re clearly not perfect.

“As a universal qualification at 16 in England, they need to work for as many of our young people as possible, but the evidence suggests that’s not yet the case.”

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