Sunday, 26 May 2013


In the throws of my GCSEs I began to ponder over our Education system. I do not plan to preach that the schooling system in Britain is in need of reformation, but it is clear (from my perspective) that there are some faults.

Firstly, having looked at the facts and figures, on average girls are better at GCSEs than boys. And this may come across as sexist, but this is because at 16 boys are much less ambitious than girls. This gives girls the capacity to learn by rote the mark schemes of exams, where boys do not have the inspiration to do so. However, at A-Level, it seems the gap is much less prominent – is this because girls suddenly become lazier at 18, or is it because, as I have been told, A-Levels aren’t examinations that you can just revise for to do well in? In fact, last year The Telegraph released an article claiming:
Boys are overtaking girls in the race for the very best A-levels after dominating elite A* grades for the first time, official figures show.”

What I’m getting at here is this: surely an exam (GCSEs) that one can spend months preparing for is not a real test of knowledge? If anybody at school sees this they will call me a hypocrite because I have been revising non-stop for the past few months, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it – I suppose I just have to conform.

For example last week I took my Greek Set-Texts examination. For those of you who are not familiar, if you study Latin or Greek, the examining board, OCR, require that each student translate the extract from the set-text that they choose to give us in the exam. However this is an unrealistic expectation for many students, who simply learn by-heart a translation their teacher has given to them. So in reality, when we regurgitate the Latin/Greek passage we have learnt, it is really a test of our teacher’s translation skills and our robotic learning of English, and has nothing to do with our actual translating efficiency – pointless? Moreover when I was looking at the mark scheme after completing a past paper, I noticed that it said ‘Do not accept reference to ‘dwell’’. And surely enough, in the translation my teacher gave to me, it said ‘dwell’. Students cannot be expected to alter their teacher’s translations, so it is indeed possible for them to actually lose marks due to their teachers mistakes.

Now this isn’t true of all exams. For example I think Edexcel’s IGCSE Maths exam is extremely efficient in it’s methods of testing. It is very hard to revise for, and you can’t really do any last minute cramming, as with most subjects – it’s about applying knowledge. But really what is the point in learning differentiation, or how to work out the area of a triangle, when it is highly unlikely that I will ever be able to use them in life! I would love to say that the History GCSE exam is much more efficient, but sadly I cannot. Students go into the exam hall after having stared at facts and dates for the past week, only either to successfully recite them on the exam paper, or to forget them as soon as they sit down. Surely History should involve learning about events and being able to give causes and effects, and possibly relating these to modern ideas, rather than just regurgitating facts.
I also think there is need for a uniform exam board. At the moment there are a large number of exam boards at GCSE level (such as Edexcel, OCR, AQA) and there are also at least two types of exams, GCSE and IGCSE. The latter is for Public/Private Schools only. How can there be a fair comparison if Public/Private Schools are taking different exams to State Schools!

Michael Gove needs to take the initiative to attempt to combine these boards to form one uniform exam board for all schools (as well as stopping IGCSEs) so that there is a real method of comparison - otherwise what is the point? Supposedly IGCSEs are meant to be slightly harder, so is that not unfair on people who are forced to take them?

Following from this, a new system has recently been introduced called Pre-U, and many people have shown scepticism, not just about whether the new system is better, but whether it will last. This means that when I take my ‘A-Levels’ I will in fact only be doing two, and I will also be taking two Pre-Us. Therefore it worries me that, if the Pre-U system becomes obsolete, then in a few years time people could possibly have forgotten what a Pre-U is – so my two years of hard work might have gained me no recognised qualification.

Nonetheless, I still view education, as well as schooling, as central to a successful life in modern society, and it aggravates me when people argue against this. In Suli Breaks’ video Why I Hate School But Love Education he brings up that Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs never graduated from what he calls a ‘higher learning institution’. Yes that is true, and it shows that it is possible to succeed without a degree. However, that is no argument for turning ones back on education. Let’s not forget that thousands of successful people did go to University.

Let us say that success is a house, and that schooling is the key. Yes, there are ways to get in without using the front door, but that is the easiest way of entry.

Some argue that school is boring, and it can take people's fun away. But in reality school can inspire young people to do something with their life, and it also gives them the opportunity to do so.

So in my view education is vital, and this again emphasizes the need for a first-class education and examination system. Education is the most important thing for the government to spend money on. It’s today’s kids that will run the country tomorrow. So why are cuts still being made? Three times as much money was spent on benefits in 2011 as was spent on Education. We need to have a comprehensive, national examination system at GCSE level, so that there is a clear method of comparison for young people coming out of education. Therefore I believe some of the above problems must be addressed.


  1. Some great points raised here, Tom.

    Re exams, I think the big distinction is between testing knowledge ie what you have learnt (by rote, perhaps?) and understanding, which is something far deeper... But, I'm sure you can see the difference.

    And I'm glad you see the problems of a two tier system.

    B x

  2. As an academic in Translation Studies, I can say with some authority that marking Translation as a skill "objectively" is HUGELY problematic, and ought generally be discouraged as much as possible (although this is contrary to widespread assumptions on the subject).

    I can see the logic of a single examination board; but it would have to be a single one for each UK nation - otherwise what would happen if different education ministers insisted on different contradictory things? It's also important, in some subjects (history and literature esp.) to have nationally-appropriate provision: I wouldn't want to insist that kids in Norfolk learn about the Welsh princes - though it would do them no harm - but similarly I wouldn't want to see "British History" being taught across the UK, because this inevitably just means English history.


  3. Of course, as in the IGCSE History system, there is a choice of topics (about 20) and each school chooses the topics (about 4) that they want their students to study. So for example there would be the opportunity to study Welsh princes, and in Scotland you could study the history of Caledonia. Nonetheless, it is a good point you raise about different countries, but I do think the same exam board should make the papers, or else it is not equal - this doesn't rule out the idea of having separate syllabi (plural of syllabus?) or examination techniques, but clearly UMS is almost vital if there is to be a single exam board.

  4. Scotland have their own completely separate education system; they don't do GCSEs or A-Levels at all & they never have (it pre-dates devolution). Wales looks like it's going to go the same way, somewhat amusingly by staying still and retaining GCSEs while the UK government scraps them in England.