Narrow GCSEs Are Failing Students, Says Teaching Union

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 22, 2008 | Go to article overview

Narrow GCSEs Are Failing Students, Says Teaching Union


Byline: Moira Sharkey

GCSEs are failing young people and not providing them with the skills they need at university or in a career, a teaching union claimed yesterday.

As pupils in Wales celebrated another record results year, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers called for reform of the GCSE curriculum.

ATL Cymru said more emphasis should be placed on providing a fully-rounded education which ensures school leavers are independent learners, who know the importance of punctuality, reliability and politeness.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Wales, said the Welsh Baccalaureate, which aims to provide students with a broad educational experience combining academic courses with vocational and practical skills, was a step in the right direction.

More than 1,000 candidates entered the Welsh Bac at intermediate level, which is pitched at the same level as A* to C grade GCSEs.

This was up from 354 candidates last year. Of those, 603 learners achieved the intermediate diploma and 450 the foundation diploma which is the lower level diploma.

"ATL Cymru congratulates all those who have achieved their GCSE results this year, but we are concerned that GCSEs reflect a narrow subject-based curriculum that still fails a significant proportion of young people currently leaving school." said Dr Dixon.

"ATL believes that the curriculum needs to provide a fully rounded education, providing the sort of skills required by employers and universities: initiative, creativity, punctuality, reliability and politeness, research skills, independent learning and innovative thinking.

"The Welsh Bac results are particularly encouraging because the Bac is moving us towards a curriculum much better suited to the needs of 21st century Wales.

"But curriculum reform needs to gather pace if it is to become part of other welcome initiatives aimed at tackling youngsters currently disengaged from learning by their experience in schools and colleges."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: "We are not saying that achievement should be made easier or 'dumbed down', or that aspirations should not be high.

"What ATL is saying is that the curriculum needs to provide a fully-rounded education, not a test-driven, exam-based, targetled system."

The Federation of Small Businesses supports the view that diplomas and work-based training should be considered alongside GCSEs.

Congratulating students this year on achieving a new record pass-rate of 98.4%, Colin Willman, FSB Education and Skills chairman, said: "I congratulate all GCSE students on their successes this year.

"They should be proud of their achievements.

"The FSB still values GCSEs but we hope to see diplomas and work-based training on the same par." He added: "Remember, only a quarter of small business owners have a degree, with nearly half have GCSE or equivalent and professional qualifications instead.

"An eighth of entrepreneurs have no formal qualifications at all. "Success for school leavers in the business world shows that there is a need for greater options in the education system to ensure that entrepreneurial and employability learning can flourish alongside traditional academic routes."

This year, while the percentage of students getting the top A* grade was down slightly to 6.1%, overall the top achieving students did even better than last year with 65% gaining A* to C grades, up 2% on 2007.

However, amid the headline success stories and alongside the calls for a wider curriculum, concerns were also raised about standards in traditional subjects.

Just over 50%of students taking maths getting an A*to Cgrade, the lowest of all GCSE courses.

This equates to around 20,000 students, with more than 1,300 getting less than aGgrade.

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