Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: New exam could devalue our tests

The proposal to axe GCSE examinations in England, replacing them with an English Baccalaureate certificate, has some merit.

It will do away with modules which allow students to retake examinations and drastically reduce coursework and classroom assessment. Only one examination board will set the end of year test, putting an end to charges that currently boards are dumbing down tests to increase pass rates.

But there are debits to the new system. Many children are not good at sitting examinations and while it is possible to defer them for a year, that still means that one test on one particular day could determine a child's future.

Examinations are not necessarily the best measure of intelligence and any new system should not be so dogmatic in its approach. With the new tests being introduced in schools in England in 2017, pupils who sit GCSEs in the meantime will feel that their qualifications are being devalued.

The examinations shake-up in England will have ramifications here also. Education Minister John O'Dowd is being forced to review the GCSE system here because of fears that sticking with the current tests will put students here at a disadvantage when applying to universities in England in the future.

Mr O'Dowd says his Westminster counterpart, Michael Gove, failed to discuss the new proposal with Stormont. If that is correct, it showed a very high-handed attitude by Mr Gove which could rebound on the education of local students.

But the imperative is to have a speedy review of the GCSE system here. The power-sharing administration has not proved adept at swift and radical reforms in any sphere.

But this is one issue which cannot be allowed to drag on or get caught up in party political dogma. We need a comprehensive appraisal of the current system and proposals for changes, if required, as soon as practical. But we must also ensure that any new testing regime will produce the right results - equipping our young people with the skills they need for future careers.

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