A ‘Jet-lag’ Examination Era

In 2015, we will see the start of the real changes we have been promised at both GCSE and A Level to bring the much-heralded ‘rigour’ back into the examination system.

Students who start studying for GCSEs in 2015 will be the first students to face the new number grading system when they sit their exams in 2017 while A level students who start their courses in 2015 will be sitting papers devised to improve academic standards and prove far more testing.

Despite being supportive of the drive to drive standards up, as a Head, I despair of what will surely be chaos in the exam system over the next few months and years because of the utter lack of preparation we are facing.

In just a matter of weeks, schools – including our school – should be talking to Year 11 pupils about their A Level choices and yet, unbelievably, we have a real lack of information about almost all of the accredited syllabuses from the exam boards. Confusion also surrounds another crucial A level factor: what the universities will be looking for from potential candidates. Will they be looking for 3 A levels and an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) from their strongest candidates or will they be looking for 4 A levels – we simply don’t know and this is simply not good enough.

Staff should be in a position to help their pupils and potential pupils make informed choices about their future and yet they are being kept in the dark by the exam boards and the universities – a double whammy which is causing schools a huge headache.

Inevitably, any new changes to the UK exam system would certainly result in one year of confusion but because these changes are not being phased in with correct times, we could end up with four years of confusion – a nightmarish scenario for pupils and staff.

This is quite simply because the changes at the top of the exam system impact throughout the age groups. The increasing amount of English and Mathematics skills required at GCSE and A level naturally mean that younger children will need to be taught differently and, yet, for some children, this will almost certainly be too late.

Children who are now in Years 7, 8 and 9 – the first three years of secondary school or 11-14 year olds – will suffer here because they have been prepared thus far through their school careers for the existing exam system and its needs not for the new system. They are almost certain to lack some of the skills required for the new exams.

It worries me that we have heard so little from the exam boards on the new A level syllabus – perhaps because they are having problems themselves assimilating the required changes.

I suspect we will see a worrying ‘jet lag effect’ on the exam system because of these rushed changes. All of this could and should have been avoided by less rush and more preparation. Thousands of children in this country could needlessly have their examination chances damaged or at least seriously hindered by this lack of foresight.


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