Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Five "good" GCSEs

Regular readers will be aware that I am a great enthusiast for more attention being paid to the standard of education being provided to children who are taught out of school. The impact assessment for the new Children, Schools and Families Bill expresses the hope that more home educated children will be gaining five GCSEs, including English and Mathematics. This is of course very right and proper, but one cannot help but wonder whether this same Government will soon start putting their own educational house in order. Currently, fewer than half of all school leavers manage to acquire the magic five GCSEs. In some areas, the figures are truly appalling.

My wife has the misfortune to come from the North of England; Grimsby, of all unlikely places. In one area of that town, 93% of school leavers failed to pass five GCSEs at Grade C or above. For anybody at all familiar with the shockingly low standards needed to pass a GCSE at Grade C, this is more than a little staggering. My daughter and I have had many conversations about this with friends and their teenage children and we have often speculated as to how anyone could possibly manage not to get at least a C for English! Only 13% of the marks are awarded for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Even if you hardly knew the language, you could therefore still hope to gain 87% with a little effort.

Despite the horribly low standards of the GCSE and the frightful cheating which takes place under the guise of coursework, over one hundred and thirty five thousand children last year failed to pass even a single GCSE at Grade C or higher. Not one. This can be disasterous for them. A survey by the Learning and Skills Agency in 2007 discovered that 20% of employers would not even consider a job applicant with fewer than five GCSEs including English and Mathematics. Never mind about going to college and university, some of these kids are going to be hard pushed to get a job at McDonalds!

It is good that the Government are determined to drive up standards in home education, but with such terrible schools on offer they might spare a thought as to why some parents choose not to send their children there. If the average school were safe and provided a sound education, then perhaps home education would not be such an increasingly popular choice. There are many reasons why home education has grown exponentially in recent years, but the decline in the quality of British schools must surely be part of the explanation.


  1. College may not be a problem, especially if you are interested in vocational courses such as mechanical engineering, IT, the arts, social care, business, public services, etc. There are plenty of level 1 BTEC courses that you can start without qualifications and use to move up to the next level.

  2. Ah, it's good to know that somebody is happy with the quality of education being offered by secondary schools in this country! Have you ever thought of a job as press officer for the DCSF?

  3. Not going to argue with you generally about the value of good GCSES (or else we wouldn't spend so much time or money doing them) but am going to have a dig at your comment on GCSE English lang
    "how anyone could possibly not manage to get a C" etc - just wanted to make you realise that it isn't all that straightforward for some - my dd has now taken IGCSE/GCSE eng lang 3 times and is the queen of the D grades- her spelling and grammar may be perfect (but as you say that is only 13% of the marks) but she cannot find the right answer to anything that requires "common sense".....so a question which asks something like "explain why Jonny tells Meg he is unhappy" may produce a beautifully written piece of nonsense. Yet the same girl can do A level maths and sciences without difficulty!!

    As to school exam success though - yes, it may be the schools fault in that some teachers are poor... but some schools have what can only be described as dreadful catchment areas and families who care little about education..various proverbs come to mind... I don't think that anyone can force children to learn if the whole family/culture ethos is working against it.

  4. I seem to recollect your saying that your daughter was on the autistic spectrum, Julie? Clearly, a question like the one you mention would be a disaster for her. In fact with the emphasis now on empathy in most subjects, I would be curious to know if she has had difficulty in any other topics. Every piece of work now seems to begin, "Imagine you are Romeo, how would you feel?" or "You are a peasant whose baby had just died of Black Death. How would it make you feel?" or even in geography, and this is a true example, "Abdul is nine years old and works a twelve hour day for 50P. How would you feel if that were your life?" I'm guessing that the reason that your daughter is a whizz at maths and science is becuase it deals, at least for now, with facts.

  5. I'm also going to take issue with 'how can anyone not get at least a 'C' in english'
    I did my GCSE's about 10 years ago at my local state school. I did generally well, getting 10 A* - Cs, with 'A*s' for sciences and an 'A' for maths but I think I did struggle to get my C for English.
    I admit I now have problems with spelling and grammer sometimes (especially now I don't write very often) but not so much at school.
    If I had difficulties getting a 'C' (as a reasonably intelligent person who has always read and loved books) then I think it is a lot harder than you think to get a 'C' grade.


  6. Yep- geography was also tricky - the physical bits were fine (ie how are waterfalls formed) but all that social stuff which needed some understanding of why people behave as they do.... unfathomable to her - she has enough difficulty understanding why people she knows behave in such odd (to her) ways.

    Snowed up here -- got the BBC filming abandoned cars etc at nearby services (children keep staggering across road to have a look!) 100 cars stick on A3 next to us overnight and refugees camped out in local church.....

  7. "Ah, it's good to know that somebody is happy with the quality of education being offered by secondary schools in this country! "

    Err, why would you make this assumption just because I pointed out that college is still open to young people (despite your suggestion otherwise) even after schools have failed them? I can't see the connection.

  8. I said "Never mind about college and university", which was meant to suggest that this was not a topic which I was going to pursue. However, you are quite right. Some vocational course are accessible to children without GCSEs. It is a pity that so many though are being denied the opportunity to study A levels and move on to academic subjects at university. I still maintain that secondary education in this country is in a lamentable state and that this might well contribute to the growing numbers of parents who choose to educate their own children at home.

  9. "It is a pity that so many though are being denied the opportunity to study A levels and move on to academic subjects at university."

    Or it could be an indication of the numbers more suited to a vocational route? Obviously an academic route is not going to suit all children, yet schools seem to channel most children down this route with the inevitable result that many of them will fail.