examstressAn overhaul of GCSEs in England announced by the Education Secretary yesterday [11 June] has drawn widespread criticism from groups including the National Children's Bureau, the British Dyslexia Association and the National Union of Teachers.

Michael Gove outlined a raft of changes to the current system of testing 16-year-olds in England. Proposals include the abolition of modular courses, with full exams taken at the end of two years instead, the scrapping of controlled assessments – coursework done under exam conditions – and exams to be based on a more stretching, essay-based system.

Seriously harm disadvantaged children
However, leading children’s charity, the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), is warning that the proposals will seriously disadvantage young people who don’t have a supportive home environment or who have special educational needs.

Dr Hilary Emery, Chief Executive of the NCB, said: "We are deeply concerned that the emphasis on final examinations limits the degree to which young people can be recognised for the knowledge and skills they have.

"Secondary school should be about increasing the opportunities for all young people to have the very best learning experience, preparing them for adulthood and nurturing their talents and aspirations. The Government needs to seriously reflect upon the consequences of rushing to introduce harder examinations, designed to ensure more students fail."

Her fears were echoed by the British Dyslexia Association, which believes that this method of testing will not only make it very difficult for many dyslexic candidates to demonstrate their ability, but it could also create a barrier for them to continue on to higher education. “Coursework is generally a much fairer method of assessment for those with specific learning difficulties whose difficulties can be exacerbated in the stress of a one-off examination. We believe alternative methods of assessment constitute a reasonable adjustment for these students,” a statement said.

Ignoring different learning styles
The BDA also agreed with the concerns made by Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, that: “the proposals to get rid of coursework from every core subject apart from science are really not the best way forward. This will ignore different learning styles and will narrow the skills that can be tested through terminal examinations.”

While the BDA has raised these issues with Government, via its numerous consultations on changes to the education system, national curriculum and so on, it says it is “unfortunate” that such input has gone unheeded.

“There does not appear to be any reflection or consideration of the points made by us, and many others who are likely to be most affected. We therefore urge the Government to properly consider and consult on these very important developments, which will create a negative and adverse impact for dyslexic and SpLD students; the largest disability/SEN group,” the statement continued.

The BDA has called upon its members, local Dyslexia Associations and other interested parties to lobby the Education Minister and their local MPs on the issue.