You may have read the article in Cambridge News this week which followed the leaked news that the government proposes to bring back O’Levels (you can read the full article here: http://bit.ly/NUdngN). In it I said that the government appears to have missed the opportunity offered by the raising of the school leaving age in 2015 to 18 years, to take a macro view of what is needed and what education is for, now and in the future.
A quick romp back through history provides some useful context here (see http://bit.ly/O4z52V for further reading):
In 1880 education was made compulsory up to the age of 10 years; in 1893 this was increased to 11 years; then in 1899 to 13 years. This is where it stayed for two decades or so when the compulsory leaving age was raised to 14 years, and at around the same time the maximum class size was capped at 30 pupils. In 1947 compulsory education was extended again to 15 years and all 11 years olds were required to sit the 11-plus to channel them into either grammar or secondary modern schools. In 1951 O’Levels (GCE) and A’Levels were introduced to replace the School Certificate and Higher School Certificate. They were designed as a leaver’s examination and in the mid-60s CSEs were introduced as a less rigorous alternative, with the highest pass mark being equivalent to a Grade C O’Level. So, pausing briefly here, O’Levels were designed and intended to mark the end of formal education and they allowed students to demonstrate what they knew and were capable of achieving across a broad range of academic and arts subjects, as they entered the world of work. Back to the history again, finally in 1972 the formal school leaving age was raised to 16 years and, in 1986, GCSEs were introduced to replace O’Levels and CSEs.
Now, this week’s national media coverage has highlighted something that many people can be forgiven for not having been aware of. From next year the law will require students to continue in education or training until the age of 17 years, and then from 2015 they will not be able to leave education before they are 18 years old.
So, on the eve of yet another change in the age for compulsory education, the question is not whether O’Levels should be brought back to replace GCSEs but, much more importantly, is there any point in examining children at 16 years when they will not be leaving school until they reach 18 years old? What is the point in making reforms now that do not fit the system in the future?
What has made many people furious is that government’s move seems to be fuelled by politics and not education.
The window of opportunity for government to be really visionary about education is now, but sadly a rusty hinge seems to be keeping it stuck shut.