If We Don’t Make GCSEs Harder We’ll Have a Generation of Dropouts

Whilst the nation’s young people attend secondary school, they are encouraged to try their best to succeed in their GCSEs and are told vaguely to choose and then prepare for college. University is rarely a focal point – it can feel too far off to bother with when only 16. But after the transition into further education, which is considered by many to be a greater jump than that of college to university, the pressure is turned up tenfold and within the first year of sixth form, students are suddenly hit with an onslaught of pressure, work and a tight time limit with which to choose their future. Can young people handle it?

Although the number of subjects decreases as they become more specialised in further education, the number of exams doesn’t necessarily decrease, with some students sitting 12 exams within a 3 week time period for four or five subjects. Some students also have three exams on the same day, and in competitive subjects such as biology and law, students are advised to revise for four hours per day during the Easter holidays, before exams occur, for that subject alone. And it’s not just the frequency of exams, it’s the content. GCSEs are much more focused on memorising information and regurgitating it, but A-Levels place emphasis on writing style, thinking critically, logic, coherence, and often putting exactly the answer the examiners are looking for as opposed to some variation. This is not necessarily a bad thing; the problems arise through lack of preparation. Data from the Department for Education shows that one-in-six A-levels were not completed in 2012. This is no small matter.

Exam learning, lessons, school, college

Rights; Alberto G

Another source of shock and stress for students is the intensity of study. When starting secondary school, most schools choose not to examine Years 7 through to 9 – preparatory years, in essence. Some GCSE exams are then taken during year 10, but most exams are not taken until the end of year 11, almost five years after beginning high school. In college, however, AS exams are taken in June of the first year or even in January, after only a few months of targeted, challenging, and unfamiliar work… and a Christmas Break!. As almost every lesson is tailored for the exams, there is little time for ‘fun’ lessons, which can be detrimental to the passion a student may have for a subject. It also presents a polarised debate as to whether education is about sharing knowledge and growing as a person, or simply getting proof of your academic success on paper and mindlessly being pushed through the education system, only to be spat out at the end with a degree. In reality, the latter is the only realistic option, as, for the individual, concrete qualifications are the only thing universities and employers will see.

The last and most pressing matter that students are faced with is the sudden looming presence of university. During school, University seems an awfully long way away and students are encouraged to mainly focus on the next step: A-Levels or another kind of further education. But once they make the transition, it seems that students barely have time to breathe before they are being bombarded with questions about which universities they want to apply for (if at all!), which courses, live in or stay at home, what entry requirements there are, what career opportunities this presents etc. – all before they’ve finished their first year. And these are not decisions to make lightly, especially since the increase in tuition fees. It’s a lot to take on.

Students who have been treated like children are suddenly expected to act like adults, to decide their futures before they know what they want to do with their lives. They’re given a rude awakening to the competitive and unkind nature of higher education; it needs to be made a little less rude before we’re left with a generation of dropouts.


About the author

Meg Morgan

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Student writer providing a voice for the young people who dropped English after 3 months and so can't articulate their views in a way anyone will take seriously. I don't condone violence so my weapon of choice is wit, which always wins as long as the fights occur online.