GCSEs

Recent criticism of the new GCSE format from leaders within the education sector has led to questions about whether school curriculums are adequately preparing pupils for life in employment.

The new GCSE format has been described as dull, narrow and stifling creative teaching by one head in a recent TES article. As a result, students are not learning important skills such as critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving. What does this mean for pupils who, in as little as a few months, could be entering the workforce as apprentices and beginning their careers or moving on to A levels?

What skills are required today and in the future?

That depends on what skills will be required now and in the future. Three years ago the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its prediction for the top ten skills needed in 2020. They differ somewhat from 2015 and if GCSEs are stifling creative thinking, it could mean a rethink is required before the syllabus format has even truly got off the ground.

According to the WEF the top skills that employers will be looking for in 2020 are listed below:

Skills taught by GCSEs

Importantly, creativity is predicted to be the third most important skill in helping companies achieve future success. By 2020 the introduction of the fourth industrial revolution will be well underway. There will be a deluge of new technologies, autonomous robotics and different ways of working. Employees will need to become more creative to benefit from this. Robotics and automation will not be creative beings just yet so it will be important for companies to employ creative thinkers.

Crucially, five years from now, over one-third of skills (35%) that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed. In 2015 creativity was the tenth most important skill. In just five years, it’s jumped seven places. Quality control was sixth, today it no longer features in the top ten.

The most important skill according to the WEF is complex problem-solving. Disruption to industry will require employees to think critically to solve complex problems. Never before-seen scenarios as a result of automation, technology and new processes will see employees use the flexibility of their minds to solve day-to-day issues.

Criticism of the current GCSE format

The current GCSE format has been criticised for pushing students to remember large volumes of information, rather than think independently and critically.

Labour MP Lucy Powell has argued there is too much emphasis on rote-learning.

“The balance has shifted greatly to having to cram stuff in at the expense of a love of poetry or a love of maths and being able to apply that love and that knowledge,” she said.

Schools minister Nick Gibb has made a passionate defence of the GCSE format and its scoring system. He argues that the public value good grades in objective STEM subjects over creativity. He goes on to say that, in spite of some confusion, it was important that the new scoring system included a higher grade of 9, equivalent to an A**, allowing universities to separate the top 5% of students.

Other organisations contend that Gibb’s lack of focus on creativity is myopic. Gibb has not considered criticism from Russel Group universities who are to give creative thinking at A level greater prominence. However, by narrowing the curriculum and stifling creative thinking in favour or memorisation, are GCSEs ill preparing students for employment or university?

Lord Baker, another prominent force in the education sector has also been vocal about what he describes as the squeezing out of creative and technical teaching in UK schools. All of this leads to the question of whether GCSEs are relevant and appropriate for now and in the future. Are they providing value to pupils in the long-term?

If world economic organisations, universities, employers and business groups are calling for creative, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, are GCSE which focus on memorisation and narrow syllabuses suitably preparing students for life in employment?

If not, schools may have to prepare themselves for GCSE reform once again in the future in order to meet the demands of employers and global organisations. The ultimate risk is having a workforce which is ill-prepared and an education system which is undermined on a global scale.