DEBATE: Should GCSEs be scrapped and replaced with a broader, more holistic curriculum?

Children should have a broad education with a rich curriculum (Source: Getty)

Should GCSEs be scrapped and replaced with a broader, more holistic curriculum?

Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow and chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, says YES.

Skills shortages cost our economy £6.3bn annually, while hundreds of thousands of young people are faced with the despair of unemployment and unfulfilled job-seeking. Brexit and the rise of the robots will only exacerbate that divide.

Businesses are clear what they want. A base of knowledge, yes, but alongside that the skills that power any modern industry – communication, problem-solving, teamwork. Those skills aren’t learned sitting in rows memorising facts. Schools need to bring together knowledge and skills in engaging projects that bring the curriculum to life.

Now that we’ve raised the participation age so that young people have to engage with education until 18, it makes no sense to pin everything on high-pressure GCSEs at 16. Instead, we need a holistic baccalaureate at 18 that recognises academic and technical skills, together with the personal development that young people need for work and life.

Dr Joanna Williams, head of education at Policy Exchange, says NO.

Robert Halfon is right – children should have a broad education with a rich curriculum. But this means keeping, not scrapping, GCSEs.

There’s nothing narrow about following an academic pathway up to the age of 16. From physics to music, chemistry to foreign languages, all children deserve access to our knowledge of the world.

Putting vocational skills on the school curriculum means that some of these subjects will be dropped before children have even begun to delve into them. Education will be sacrificed to job-training, making the learning experience narrower.

GCSEs no longer act as a school-leaving certificate, but this doesn’t mean that they serve no purpose. They help 16-year-olds make decisions about their future direction. For those who move to a sixth form college, take up an apprenticeship, or go on to further education, they provide an account of their school success.

Academic achievement deserves to be recognised in its own right, and academic GCSEs provide a good foundation for adult life in the broadest sense.

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