A report published for this year’s annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry (19 November 2012) has called for the focus of the English exam system to shift from GCSE to A level.
The CBI report, First Steps, recommends a complete overhaul of the UK’s education system. Among the many recommendations made in the report was that maths and English should be studied by all until 18, but for there to be different routes of study for students on different career paths post-16.
After pointing out that England, Wales and Northern Ireland have the lowest proportions of students studying maths in advanced economies during the upper phase of secondary education, the report recommended that the government develop ‘clearly rigorous and stretching standards for both academic and vocational A-levels, with maths and English retained until 18 for both’.
The report also stressed the importance of tailoring mathematical study post-16 to an individual’s needs. ‘Maths study for a retail apprentice and for an A-level student will be fundamentally different, but it is vital that both are undertaken,’ it said.
Both of these recommendations are currently already being acted on by the government; however, the report also recommended that policy should focus on developing the exams taken at 18 rather than those taken at 16. ‘There is an opportunity to realign the system rather than simply putting a tougher exam in place,’ it said.
The report talked of moving away from GCSEs to a mix of exams and regular assessments aimed at supporting student decision-making about subject choices and career paths. These could be undertaken at 14 or 16, including .
‘In some cases secondary schools have become an exam factory,’ said John Cridland, CBI Director-General. ‘Qualifications are important, but we also need people who have self-discipline and serve customers well.’