On Monday morning, what may be the most dreaded and feared set of public exams England’s teenagers have ever sat began in school assembly halls up and down the country.
It is 30 years since GCSEs (General Certificate for Secondary Education) were first introduced under Margaret Thatcher, replacing O-levels and CSEs. The new exam was designed to cover a broad spectrum of ability rather than dividing pupils between high achievers, who sat O-levels, and lower-ability students, who took CSEs. Now, three decades later, following claims of grade inflation and dumbing down, GCSEs have been revised and re-formed and a brand new set of exams is being rolled out.
Gone are the old-style assessments with their forgiving modules, repeat exams and coursework. In their place are Michael Gove’s super-tough, “gold-standard”, highly academic qualifications. Gove, secretary of state for education between 2010 and 2014, believed the old GCSEs’ reliance on coursework assessment was open to abuse. He argued that the content of the revised examinations should be pitched at a more sophisticated level, claiming: “By making GCSEs more demanding, more fulfilling, and more stretching we can give our young people the broad, deep and balanced education which will equip them to win in the global race.”