More private schools could ditch GCSEs after London school announces own qualification

A group of MPs has denied wanting to ban many young people from going to university after pushing for restricted access to student loans (PA) (PA Wire)
A group of MPs has denied wanting to ban many young people from going to university after pushing for restricted access to student loans (PA) (PA Wire)

Growing numbers of private schools are expected to abandon GCSEs after a London school announced it will create its own qualifications, experts warned on Wednesday.

The £24,000-a-year Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith will drop all GCSEs apart from English and maths. It said this will stretch pupils further and free up a quarter of its teaching time.

Pupils will instead take Latymer’s own qualifications, which have not yet been named, and will end up with a portfolio and transcript of what they have learnt in each subject. Teaching for the new qualification will begin in 2027.

It comes after the private Bedales school in East Hampshire also announced plans to move pupils onto its own ‘Bedales Assessed Courses’ in most subjects.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at the university of Buckingham said more private schools are expected to follow suit, but state schools will continue with GCSEs.

He said: “More independent schools may follow because it is a freedom they enjoy as private schools. There is no doubt GCSEs divert their activities for 16-year-olds and interrupt the design of courses that run from age 13 to 18.”

He added that ditching GCSEs may make running schools “smoother” but questioned whether it was to the advantage of pupils. He said: “Some pupils might not discover different forms of talent if they don’t get the independent, objective information that GCSEs provide.”

He said GCSEs are important in state schools because they are used as an accountability measure. More state school pupils go on to a different pathway after the age of 16 so need to have evidence of their capabilities, he said.

Pupils at Latymer Upper School scored top results in GCSEs this summer, with 93 per cent graded at least a 7 which is the equivalent of an A. Fitfty-five per cent were awarded the top grade of a 9.

Ian Emerson, deputy head of Latymer Upper School, told The Times teenagers would be stretched to the equivalent of a grade 10 and beyond and also better prepared for A-levels with the new qualifications.

He said: “We’ve been discussing for several years the possibility of replacing GCSEs with some internal courses. The pandemic and all that came out of it was a big driver for us. Our staff just felt very empowered to say, we know how to assess these pupils. We know what we need to do.”

He added: “We want to make sure we do this really well and get it right, it’s going to be well delivered.”

Mr Emerson said the school will free up “months of critical learning time.”

GCSE mock exams are taken in January and the real exams in May and June, meaning the teaching of the course is often finished before halfway through year 11.

The new qualification is expected to be assessed with oral exams, group work activities, presentations, online assessments, project based learning, fielding questions from an audience as well as traditional written exams.

Pupils will have to take English, maths, a science, a foreign language and a humanities subject, and the school said that arts, music and drama are vital. They will also take bridging courses into A-level towards the end of the two years, to help them prepare.

It comes after increasing calls for GCSEs to be reformed or scrapped, prompted partly by the pandemic when exams were cancelled.

A recent review by the Independent Assessment Commission said the GCSE system should be overhauled and testing of pupils “should not be based around a fixed age of 16”.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The current system of GCSEs relies on students taking a very large number of end-of-course exams. There is often no opportunity for ongoing assessment or ways to adapt the qualifications to best suit the needs of pupils.

“A grading cliff-edge in English and maths results in a third of 16-year-olds leaving school without a Grade 4 ‘standard pass’, something that is both demoralising and damaging to their future prospects.”

He added: “In the face of an examination system that feels increasingly outdated, it is unsurprising that some schools are exploring alternative options. It is time to rethink GCSEs to reduce the burden of assessment, increase flexibility and ensure they are fit for the 21st century.”