GCSEs should be taken at 14 to improve social mobility, says Sutton Trust

19 Nov 10
Pupils should take GCSEs at 14 and be given a choice of education routes that reflect their interests and abilities, a leading social mobility charity said today.
By Lucy Phillips

22 November 2010

Pupils should take GCSEs at 14 and be given a choice of education routes that reflect their interests and abilities, a leading social mobility charity said today.

In its report published ahead of the education white paper, the Sutton Trust concludes that the structure of secondary education and schools admissions have become so ‘complex and confusing’ that the time is ‘ripe for reform’.  

Its report, Choice and selection in school admissions: the experience of other countries, analysed education systems in 30 Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development countries, including England. It found that England had an ‘untidy mix’ of secondary school pathways, with choices dictated by the school the children happen to be in, rather than by their talents and interests.

Authors Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson, from the University of Buckingham’s Centre for Education and Employment Research, argue that, in line with international good practice, GCSEs should be reformed as a national exam for 14-year-olds, instead of being taken at 16. A ‘distinct and credible’ set of educational routes should be offered to pupils thereafter to ensure that children pursue the choices that reflect their interests and abilities, not their social background. 

Sutton Trust chair Sir Peter Lampl admitted that such a radical proposal ‘may be a step too far for government’ but added:  ‘At the very least, a sharpening up the options available to children is urgently required.’

The report revealed that there were at least 12 different admissions systems across the 30 countries. While no country had developed a ‘magic bullet’ to address the ‘contentious’ issue, the national admissions code in England had become ‘unwieldy’.  

The authors challenge the UK government to decide whether it attaches more importance to narrowing the attainment gap between schools, which is best achieved by random allocation, or to promoting school autonomy, which could allow schools to devise their own enrolment schemes within a national framework.

‘The issue is how to strike the right balance of enabling school autonomy with the right checks and balances to ensure that all children benefit from our schools, not just those from the most privileged homes,’ added Lampl.

The report also calls on the government to reconsider its decision to press ahead with Labour’s plans to make full-time participation in education or training compulsory until 18. ‘What young people opt to do is an important test of the quality of what is on offer,’ said Smithers. 

An education white paper is due to be published by the end of the month.

Did you enjoy this article?

AddToAny

Have your say

Top