Not all teenagers would find GCSE exams ‘easy’

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I read this week that some pupils at a college have been complaining that GCSE’s are too easy.

I don’t want to debate the whole area of dumbing down academic standards. I am a child of the ‘O’ level era when life was different, we learned in a different way and for a different world. Harder? Better? More appropriate? Who’s to say? I am not sure how well I would get on with the demands of some of today’s maths, and as for history – my own subject – we never had the chance to study real documents even if we were spared the rather trite empathy style questions of some of today’s exams.

The fact is that GCSE’s are the first public exams most young people face, for those taking nine or 10, subjects are demanding and for most they are a challenge in all sorts of ways. The government is wanting change and we are seeing some improvements - the return to linear exams by the ending of modules and endless retakes can only be for the good, whilst the abolition of most coursework has to be celebrated.

I don’t think that our exam system is perfect, actually I think there is a great deal wrong with it, but I baulk at the idea that, for most pupils, GCSE’s are too easy. The fact is they are a rite of educational passage through which we put our young people, the stepping stone to whatever comes next. But, and this is my real point, exams are not everything; they are not the only part of education that matters and if, by chance, they prove too easy, then it leaves a lot more time for what I would regard as the real purpose of education – exploration of ideas, challenge, development of initiative and so forth.

So, good for those pupils. They find their exams easy. I hope, therefore, that they have been using the time not needed for exam study to explore other ideas and undertake some really adventurous learning.

But don’t dismiss the exams themselves as too easy; that is unfair and to my mind misses the point. For most pupils, taking nine or 10 subjects all at the one time is a challenge.

And as our teenagers struggle through to the end of this summer‘s papers and begin the long, agonising wait for those results on August 23, let’s not demean what they have been doing but recognise what they achieve for what it is really worth.