1. ITV Report

Tonight: Putting GCSEs to the Test

On the day that 650,000 students get their GCSE results, the Tonight programme asks whether the exams are fit for purpose.

The Government has announced plans to overhaul the exam system in the biggest shake-up since GCSEs replaced O-levels 27-years ago. The Department of Education says standards have dropped over the past two decades and now it is far too easy to get top grades.

Planned changes include a redesigned national curriculum; a new grading system that could see the traditional A to G grades replaced with numbers eight to one; coursework and modular assessment will disappear from most subjects in favour of ‘sudden death’ exams at the end of two years; and tiered papers for students of different abilities will be scrapped, apart from in maths and science.

Some schools have already chosen to reform themselves, with the number offering alternatives to GCSEs tripling in the last three years.

Nearly 2,000 secondary schools now offer the International, or IGCSE, an exam-focused system that relies much less on coursework. The independent Manchester Grammar School was one of the first to move entirely to IGCSEs for its core subjects. High Master Dr Martin Boulton said the decision was borne out of a desire to find a syllabus that stretched pupils and better prepared them for A-levels, which he felt traditional GCSEs were increasingly failing to do.

Schools aren’t the only ones to voice concerns over the ability of the current exam system to prepare students for life post-GCSE. In a recent survey 32 per cent of businesses said they’re dissatisfied with some school leavers’ basic literacy and numeracy skills and 48 per cent said they have to provide basic remedial training for some employees.

But it’s not all bad news for GCSEs. Helen Lami, who runs a summer school for overseas students planning to study at UK schools, says the exams are still held in high regard by pupils in countries such as Russia and China, who see the UK education system as one of the best in the world.

To see whether there is any merit in the criticism that GCSEs are easier than O-levels, Tonight assembled a group of brave adults willing to sit exams in both.

The Tonight ‘students’ were given 45 minutes to complete each paper, which were based on genuine GCSE and O-level papers. If their immediate reactions are anything to go by, it seems that exam nerves never go away…

Found out how they got on tonight at 7.30pm on ITV1.

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