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GCSEs and A-levels are well past their sell-by date – The Guardian

Readers on the curriculum changes and alternative degrees that could benefit students
I was interested to read about the proposals of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change for the reform of education in England (Scrap GCSEs and A-levels, says Tony Blair Institute in call for ‘radical reform’, 23 August). Would this be the same Tony Blair who, back in 2004, vetoed the introduction of the radical reforms recommended by the Tomlinson report on the 14-19 curriculum?
As I remember, Mike Tomlinson’s plans were comprehensive, coherent and widely supported by those of us keen to see the introduction of a more appropriate curriculum for young people. What a shame that, when it was required, Blair lacked the political courage to support the radical reforms so clearly needed. How strange that he is now calling for a commission to investigate curriculum reform. How disappointing that we had an analogue prime minister for a digital age.
Lloyd Harris
I support the Tony Blair Institute’s suggestion to reform the outdated GCSE and A-level exams. I am a university lecturer and see the effects of our school system on a daily basis. The current system is narrow, valuing only memorisation of bare academic facts, and does not allow children to learn how to think outside the box and to develop independent critical thought.
Many young people arrive at university lacking basic communication skills (verbal and written) and without any experience in experimentation and making mistakes. They are fearful of discussion and of doing anything they consider might be “wrong” because they are so used to being rewarded only for getting an answer “right”.
Many panic when they are not given every last detail on how to do an assignment and ask endless questions, down to what font size they should use. Young people’s imaginations and potential are being stifled by a system that accepts only one answer as being correct, that does not teach them basic life skills and fails to prepare them for life beyond the school gates. Universities do their best to reverse this mentality, but it is hard when it is so ingrained throughout schooling, and compounded by the ever-dwindling resources that we have at our disposal.
Name and address supplied
The education system is already enjoying a radical change. This can be seen from the success of the first cohort of T-level students who collected their results alongside A-level pupils last week. A T-level is the equivalent of three A-levels and 92% achieved a pass grade or above.
T-levels are set to become the new gold standard for technical education because they are designed by employers in collaboration with the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE), an independent, employer-led organisation. They stand out from past skills training because they include a work placement that typically lasts 45 days.
T-levels are building on the success of apprenticeships, of which there are now nearly 650, including 150 at degree level. As well as all the traditional trades, apprenticeships now train tomorrow’s economists, nurses, aerospace engineers, countryside rangers, brewers, laboratory scientists, graphic designers and even archaeologists. We encourage GCSE students who received their results this week to consider these alternative routes, especially those who feel they will benefit from time in the workplace and a different type of assessment.
Jennifer Coupland
Chief executive, IfATE
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