Too much GCSE coursework, head claims

THE headteacher of a top private school in Suffolk has called for changes to the GCSE examinations, arguing that the amount of coursework is "suffocating" students.

By John Howard

THE headteacher of a top private school in Suffolk has called for changes to the GCSE examinations, arguing that the amount of coursework is "suffocating" students.

Speaking at the school's speech day on Saturday, Stephen Cole, headmaster at Woodbridge School, called for changes to the system - including a rationalisation of coursework.

Mr Cole said: "The GCSE exams work. It's the coursework that suffocates.

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"There are too many subjects measuring the same skills. It's like being asked to take your driving test in each town you drive in.

"If we can rationalise coursework, perhaps by focussing it into one great pass/fail cross-curricular project, then our children can start to breathe."

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He also said the credibility of the A* to C GCSE benchmark was being damaged because GNVQ qualifications had "official parity" with four GCSEs.

"The equivalence is bogus. Only a fool, of Shakespearean proportions, would claim that such qualifications require the same intellectual ability needed to achieve say GCSE A* to C grades in maths, science and French.

"But they count. They count in league tables. GCSE improvement counts for everything.''

Mr Cole added: "We are in an era when education ministers are getting their priorities all wrong and put the needs of pupils below their preoccupation with league tables.

"Indeed the cost of producing the tables has doubled since Labour came to power. The situation is worse at A level. Their league tables are a murky swamp of A2's, cashed and uncashed AS's, general studies or not, Advanced Vocational Qualifications, GNVQ's, those who have been allowed into the exam room and those who have not.''

Mr Cole said some schools could sacrifice students for a better league table result, encouraging them not to enter certain exams if they will not win the highest grades.

He said: "Some students can be encouraged not to go for certain exams, we do not do that. I suffer in the percentages because some students perform out of their skins to get C and D grades which for them is a tremendous achievement.''

Martin Goold, county divisional secretary for the National Union of Teachers, said there was great concern among teachers preparing pupils for GCSEs about the workload, especially with deadlines all coming at once.

He added: "It's a very difficult talk to try and make sure pupils are not overloaded.''

The Woodbridge headmaster also made reference to the tragic drowning of pupil Rory Unwin-Rose in the summer, saying it had put a focus on the meaning of friendship and fellowship.

During speech day, the school also heard from explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who presented the prizes, signed books, and spoke of the importance of motivation and character.

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