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Scotland has a different system altogether, with examinations called Standard grades, Higher grades Maths statistics gcse coursework plan Advanced Higher grades, which are taken at different ages. Taking GCSEs is not compulsory, and it is up to schools whether to enter pupils for examinations.
Each GCSE subject is assessed by formal examinations or by coursework, or by a combination of the two. Depending on their expected grades, pupils in certain subjects will be entered for the "higher" or the "foundation" tier GCSE exams. Pupils expected to achieve grades A to D take the higher tier and can achieve any grade; pupils taking the foundation tier can only achieve grade C or below.
Most subjects have these two tiers, but some art, music, physical education and history have none, while mathematics has three. GCSE syllabuses are set, examinations administered and certificates awarded by five "awarding bodies" or Examination Boards: The exam boards are overseen by three regulatory authorities: The awarding bodies decide on a "Common Timetable" each year, so as to co-ordinate the scheduling of examinations.
The Common Timetable usually runs from late May to late June each year. Arrangements for resits are made individually by each body. General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level examinations O Levels had existed since the early s, but were only available in grammar schools and private schools, and as such were only taken by the top 20 per cent of the school population by academic ability.
The majority of school pupils, who attended secondary modern schools, left without any formal qualifications. The mids saw the introduction of the Certificate of Secondary Education CSE as a qualification available to all, with its grade 1 equivalent to grades C and above at O Level, and its grade 4 pitched as the "average" attainment for the age group.
It was administered on a regional basis, while O and A Levels were administered by examination boards with links to universities. Part of the CSE system was assessed within schools, which generated criticisms of low standards. Furthermore, the existence of two not-quite parallel systems undermined public and employer understanding of the nature and value of qualifications.
Throughout the s, there was considerable pressure to merge the systems - particularly since the raising of the age of compulsory education to 16 considerably increased the number of pupils in a position to obtain qualifications.
Under the Callaghan Labour government, Education Secretary Shirley Williams now Baroness Williams of Crosby took the political decision to proceed with a merged "GCSE" system, but the election of the Conservatives in postponed any action for several years.
InConservative Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph decided to proceed with a merger, on the premise that the new qualifications should be based on general and subject-specific criteria approved by himself; that the O Level exam boards should take responsibility for carrying forward the O Level A to C grade standards into the new scale, while the CSE boards should do the same for grades D to G, which were to be based on CSE grades 2 to 5 respectively; and that most subjects should be examined through tiered papers focusing on different parts of the grade scale, ensuring that each grade reflected "positive achievement" on appropriate tasks, rather than degrees of failure.
The first GCSE courses began inand the first examinations were taken in The inclusion of coursework in GCSE assessments was a novel innovation, which many teachers at the time regarded with scepticism. The acceptable level of coursework in courses was capped by the School Examinations and Assessment Council a predecessor of the QCA in Growing concern about the relevance of academic studies and a lack of technical skills in young people led in to the introduction of Vocational GCSEs.
Despite the vocational training system having been overhauled as recently aswith the introduction of GNVQs, the Government decided that low take-up and poor perception of courses relative to GCSE merited action comparable to that taken with regard to O Level and CSE in the s.
Consequently, the new Coalition government introduced the English Baccalaureate as a "performance measure" in the performance tables published in January The measure shows where pupils have attained a C grade or above across a core of academic subjects - English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language.
The intention is to allow parents and pupils to see how schools are performing in key academic subjects and to encourage schools to give all pupils, including those from the poorest backgrounds, the opportunity to study academic subjects.
Although the English Baccalaureate is not a qualification, the Government has said it is currently looking into the possibility of issuing certificates and will confirm its decision "in due course". Controversies Although the government remains committed to the GCSE examination system, recent years have seen growing numbers questioning its continued relevance.
Most employers and educational institutions do not in fact regard grades A to G as a pass, but only grades A to C. This situation, like that which was replaced under O Levels and CSEs, leaves many pupils with qualifications of questionable value.
Indeed, it is argued in some quarters that the single grade scale for GCSE and the requirement for all subjects to be comparable in terms of grades unfairly favours academically able children, without recognising different aptitudes.
At the other end of the scale, headteachers in many independent and grammar schools complain that GCSEs do not stretch their more able pupils. Perhaps the most controversial issue relating to GCSE is the longstanding contention that exams are too easy and are getting easier - a claim given credence by the fact that overall pass rates have increased every year since GCSEs were introduced.
Each year's exam results are followed by public and media allegations that the "absolute standard" which GCSE grades are intended to represent in contrast to the "quota" grading system of the previous exam systems is being degraded.
The Government and most teachers maintain that rising pass rates are consequences of improving teaching methods, but opponents disagree, claiming that it is possible to pass GCSE exams without reaching many basic levels of educational and vocational attainment.
With more and more pupils staying in education after 16, the value of exams at that age is increasingly questioned. In a Working Group chaired by former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson was charged with developing a comprehensive framework for 14 to 19 education.
The Tomlinson report published in October proposed a series of radical changes, including replacing GCSEs, A Levels and vocational qualifications with a single diploma available at four levels - entry, foundation, intermediate and advanced.A to Z.
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