The abolition of the O level and the CSE was designed to eliminate division in education at age 16. Many welcomed the revolution, delaying dividing pupils into an academic elite and the rest until A levels or university application time.
Others disliked the changes. The advent of more high scoring GCSE pupils in sixth forms increased the pressure to change the A level. Out went some of the “tough” two year study programmes ending in a set of strenuous exam papers. In came more of the modular courses, where you could study and be examined a few steps at a time. In arts subjects out went some of the free ranging essays, invitations to display your erudition or ignorance, and in came right answers and multiple choice. Teachers now spend more time teaching exam techniques and less time teaching the subject. Even at elite universities some students expect to be told what points they ought to be making in their answers, and want to know the details of the “scoring system” for the exams.
So what do you all think of the experiment? Did GCSE and new A levels work? Did they end the unpleasant divisions? Did they produce a more democratic and modern education? Or did they dumb down standards?
Defenders of the old system of O and A levels say that they were great for the intellectual elite. Others might agree they were no good for all those who ended up with none of either. The defenders say the need was to find a convincing set of qualifications for those who did not wish to specialise in academic subjects examined the old O and A level way. Those in favour of inclusion would say the GSCE bridged the gap for more children.
Whichever view you take, there remains the big problem of what do we offer children who are not going to do well at either GCSE or current vocational qualifications? The old O and A level was fine for the academically successful. Technical schools were fine for those who wanted to be serious technicians of varying kinds.How good was education for the rest, and how could it be better?