Business leaders call for GCSEs to be reformed



Business leaders have raised concerns that GCSEs do not provide children with the skills they will need in their working life.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the qualifications, which are obtained by 16-year-olds, require children to narrow their options too early.

The school leaving age should be increased and the current exam system should be reconsidered, the group said.

Criticisms of the qualifications have been echoed by think-tank the Adam Smith Institute, which has urged the government to scrap GCSEs.

CBI director for education Neil Carberry said: “We are questioning whether we have the structure right at secondary, in as much as whether having the current arrangement of exams at 16 is leading people to narrow their choices too early.”

Carberry suggested many youngsters may not be receiving employability skills and the breadth of education that they will need in later life.

He continued: “The hypothesis we are working from is young people become too narrow too quickly and that perhaps, given that we have a summative point in the education system of 18, perhaps the model of GCSEs and doing a summative assessment on four terms of teaching at 16 for everybody, is something we need to review.”

The CBI plans to look at the matter in detail and will report back with its findings later in the year.

Sam Bowman, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said GCSEs have become “too restrictive, too monolithic, and too politicised” and questioned the merits of using the same system for all pupils.

Bowman said: “Giving Westminster civil servants final control over the education system has led to an overly-political exams system that fails students by teaching them what is politically expedient to teach, not what is in their best interests.

“Education should be pluralistic and experimental, with different schools trying out different styles of education to suit students’ needs.

“The government should be aiming to create a diverse education system where choice is king. It should scrap GCSEs, significantly scale back the the national curriculum, and roll out a bursary scheme for all students to allow all students the option of going to an independent school.

“If students are to be able to compete in a skills-centric labour market, they need a decentralised education system that’s tailored to their needs, not to those of the Department for Education.”

Teenagers will be asked to stay in school or training until the age of 17 from next year, while this will increase to 18 in 2015.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said reforms to GCSEs will mean students gain a real and lasting understanding of a subject.


Paul Champion

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