This question can be answered with different lenses. The logical lens may say that GCSEs can determine which sixth form or college you go to and impact your university choices in some cases. The political lens may say that GCSEs are a semi-objective measure of academic ability in that subject. The employer lens may say that it is the recognisable and comparative part of a person’s CV that reveals their capabilities (to some extent). The teacher lens may say that the GCSE result is not as important as the process students go through where they learn about their strengths and weaknesses, their work ethic and build invaluable character traits such as resilience.
The first GCSE exams were taken in 1988 and since then has undergone much change and criticism. I’m sure after so many exams in such a short space of time, many students, teachers and parents will be asking: what’s the point of GCSEs? This seems like such a big, obvious but scarily relevant question that proves no easy feat to answer. A school’s GCSE performance data tells us how good the school is at getting students through exams rather than how good a school is at helping students learn. It is strange, but understandable that the two do not always equate. Ironically GCSEs can sometimes act as a distraction to deep learning, adding time and content pressure and forcing many to ‘teach for the exam’. Are we too focused on competition that we are compromising on competency?
Rob Wall (head of education and employment policy at the Confederation of British Industry) sums it up perfectly: ‘Employers do value GCSEs because they’re a recognised qualification and an indication of ability, but they’re not the be-all and end-all. Actually, what employers value isn’t qualifications or academic results, it’s character and resilience. They want curious and creative people – we would like a curriculum better aligned to those outcomes.’ So perhaps the point of GCSEs should be to help foster the development of the curiosity, creativity and character that young people need to succeed in their lives.