GCSEs and A-levels are “not fit for purpose” and should be abolished in favour of more holistic assessments, a group of leading educators has said.
A new group called Rethinking Assessment outlined the need for reform in an open letter published in The Times. The group, which comprises figures from independent education, state schools and universities, said it will “make the argument for change” and will pilot “workable solutions and practical ideas” in their schools as real alternatives.
“Many of those who are involved in the exams merry-go-round are reaching the same conclusion — it’s not fit for purpose and needs to change,” the Rethinking Assessment group said.
The letter was signed by several leading headteachers of independent schools, including Simon Henderson, Eton College; Sarah Fletcher, St Paul’s Girls’ School; Magnus Bashaarat, Bedales School, and Robert Lebatto, The King Alfred School, London.
“Many young people find the relentless practice for exams increasingly stressful; depression and self-harm statistics confirm this. The over-crammed curriculum on which tests are premised ensures ‘covering content’ matters more than a love for the richness of a subject,” the group wrote.
“No credit is given to those who are skilled communicators, thoughtful team players, clever problem solvers or creative thinkers; in short, the stuff that helps you thrive in life, and makes you invaluable to employers.”
No credit is given to those who are skilled communicators, thoughtful team players, clever problem solvers or creative thinkers – Rethinking Assessment
Rethinking Assessment said private sector companies are increasingly relying on their own assessments processes to identify high-quality applicants because traditional qualifications are losing their value as an indicator of ability.
The group also criticised the method of defining grade boundaries in the UK exam system because, unlike in other countries, there is no defined level for different grades – “a young person in the UK does not get a qualification if they meet the required level, but only if they are better than enough of their peers”, the letter continued.
The group argue new assessments could rely more on “teacher judgment”, which could be moderated in “skilled ways” as already happens for drama, art, music and languages at GCSE and A-level.