Stop testing kids at 16, say neuroscientists
Should GCSEs be scrapped? Despite efforts to make exams harder, the nation’s 16-year-olds rejoiced yesterday as pass rates rose. But the stress of exam season took its toll on many.
Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of students received the final verdict on their GCSEs.
For the first time, most of the GCSEs in England were graded from 9 to 1. This is part of the government’s plan to overhaul the exams and make them more difficult.
Students rose to the challenge. The proportion of students reaching the pass levels — England’s new grade 4 and grade C in Wales and Northern Ireland — rose 0.5% to 66.9%.
Girls continued to outperform boys — but boys narrowed the gap. Overall, 17.2% of boys’ entries scored a 7 or A, which is up from 16.4% last year.
However, research has found that 73% of students said the new grading system caused extra stress. The UK is the only European country to have high-stakes testing at 16, and a growing chorus believes the current system should go.
Neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore says GCSEs are “unfair on teenage brains”.
Others argue that GCSEs were designed for a time when half of all students left school at 16. Now everyone is required to stay in some form or education or training until 18.
But most experts still believe exams are an important part of education.
Keep GCSEs, say many. Eleven years into their education is the right time to give young people their first big tests. GCSEs should be stressful in order to prepare people for adult life. Doing it any later would mean students cannot specialise before university. And any earlier would put too much pressure on developing brains.
Scrap them, reply others. Desperately cramming information for a strictly timed test is a poor imitation of the reality of working life. They also make people miserable at a time when learning should be a pleasure. GCSEs are ill-suited to teenagers’ brains. We should replace them with a system that plays to their strengths.
- Should GCSEs be scrapped?
- Think of a job you would like to do when you are older. Write an advert for that job, outlining the skills an applicant would need. How much importance would you place on exam results?
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“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”Albert Einstein
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Q & A
- What do we know?
- GCSE results were published yesterday. It was the first time most schools in the UK used the new 9-1 grading system.
- What do we not know?
- To what extent mental health problems are correlated with exam stress. After all, exams have been around for a long time, and mental health problems among young people have only recently started to rise sharply.
- Stands for “General Certificate of Secondary Education”.
- 9 to 1
- Under the new system, 9s and 8s are A*s, 7 is an A, 6 and 5 are Bs, 4 is a C, 3 is a D, and 1 and 2 are the other fail grades.
- Boys narrowed the gap
- The percentage of girls who got a 7 or A remained static at 23.7%.
- Only European country
- In many European countries, including Sweden and Germany, performance is marked by assessment rather than by a one-off examination. In the Netherlands, however, students are tested one year earlier than British students are at GCSE level.