GCSE IT: Send in the Terminator


David Cameron announces a National Debate on public sector expenditure and Michael Gove announces that state schools could take the IGCSE.

..so what next?

Exams of course...

You read it first here… the next big target are the waste-of-space exams.

I wrote a version of this blog last week, trying to stay ahead of the game using a mixture of inside info and guess work. Unfortunately everything is changing so very fast that prophecy is turned into history a bit too quickly even for me.

What I was going to do was speculate about the GCSE and AS qualifications which have done so much to spend our money and invent useless 'qualifications'. I even had written a blog dissecting the educational background of the ministers all of whom took GCSE O level.

Anyway all too late. State schools are to be allowed to take the iGCSE (International GCSE), which is, as was in the past, an examination set by the University of Cambridge (though EdEXcel have now produced their own versions).

IGCSE is basically modern O level. Yep, it's difficult and quite unlike GCSE. The upshot of this change is that GCSE will be devalued and duff GCSEs will get dropped and save us a fortune.

My candidate for the chop are the ICT GCSE and AS qualifications.

But first a few facts and figures about our post SATs testing system:

Exams are not cheap

Exam boards are not quangos so can’t be abolished. Boards are exam vendors. The more exams they sell to schools the more money they make. This also applies to the fleas on their backs namely the exam support material providers (text books et al).

Schools buy exams, lots of them. At approx £1000 per child (GCSE) that's £100,000 per school which is very approx £0.5 billion per year nationwide. Now add in AS and A2 and every other qualification you can think of and we are comfortably in the billions.

Schools buy exams:

  1. Because they have to…
  2. Because the more they buy (so long as kids pass them) the more points they get in exam league tables and so the more they (the schools) prosper.

This is not a good situation. It leads to pupils being entered for easy-but-useless exams, it leads to modularisation (more exams = more money) and retakes (more money and more passes).

This is why Universities no longer trust school exams.

This is why the iGCSE (aka O level) exists.

ICT GCSE/AS exams are a waste of time and money.

Quite recently I was asked to compile and review a list of free, open source software that would be appropriate to deliver the new syllabuses in ICT at GCSE and AS level. The idea was simple, take the syllabus specification (which was self-consciously non-partisan regarding what software should be used to deliver the courses) and match it to the applications teachers could use to deliver it.

I quite enjoyed doing the work but afterwards became rather disconcerted as I realised that what I had taught before using proprietary software was just as useless with FOSS.

We don't teach cooking, or car mechanics as mainstream GCSE/AS courses. Once this was because these were not academic subjects deemed fit for study, unlike Latin for example, but now it's because they are regarded as irrelevant.

Having taught ICT at GCSE and AS level I can honestly describe it as useless, infantalising office droid rubbish which is supported by institutionalised cheating by complicit teachers: Yes I enjoyed it that much.

Most young adults do not cook or fix their cars. In fact these areas are closed books to them. A ready-meal is as much of a black box as is the sealed innards of a BMW or indeed a computer.

We merely consume food, transport and now, thanks to GCSE, we can include ICT in that list.

Being able to word -process (type please), use a spreadsheet (fill in rectangles), create a presentation (nooooo please stop..) are trivial operations best confined to the sitcoms they call office-life.

So what is ICT doing as a GCSE or AS qualification? Are we saying white-collar joke Office skills are all of a sudden part and parcel of education whereas all other skills are vocational low status blue collar stuff?


Go on have a look at the syllabus I dare you. It makes you tired just to read it. I might, just might, say it is worth having an iGCSE in ICT at least you will have an idea about the modern world.

In any case no institutionalised cheating (aka coursework), no modular retakes. Fewer would take it too.

Think of the money saved.

So, get rid of ICT GCSE/AS pronto, it costs £100 per child.

Then have a look at some of the other GCSEs and get rid of them too. There that's my contribution to the National Waste of Space Debate launched by David Cameron.

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