New @EDSKthinktank report on the future of #GCSEs 

On the day that Ofqual closes its consultation on how grades should be awarded for this summer’s exams, a new report from education think tank EDSK calls for GCSEs to be scrapped by 2025 as part of an overhaul of secondary education in England.

The report called ‘Re-assessing the future: Part 1 – how to move beyond GCSEs’ recommends that the Department for Education should replace GCSEs with national computer-based assessments in almost all National Curriculum subjects.

The report identifies a wide range of issues facing GCSEs even before COVID appeared. Requiring 16-year-olds to sit as much as 30 hours of onerous high-stakes written examinations when they are legally required to stay in education or training for at least another two years after this point is plainly disproportionate and unnecessary. Aside from the burden that GCSEs place on pupils and their teachers, the cost to schools of delivering the current system of exams at age 16 has now reached almost £200 million a year.

The report also finds that the dominance of GCSEs in our school system has other worrying consequences. Pupils are no longer receiving a broad and balanced curriculum in the run-up to their GCSEs if their schools shorten Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) so that they can teach GCSEs over three years to improve their exam results. As a result, subjects such as art, music and design and technology are increasingly being lost from the middle years in secondary school. In addition, GCSEs crowd out technical qualifications available from the ages of 14 to 16, even if the latter are better suited to pupils’ aptitudes.

Meanwhile, the grading system used for GCSEs – known as ‘comparable outcomes’ – means that one-third of pupils are forced to ‘fail’ their exams each year. The GCSE resits policy compounds this issue because it labels pupils as having ‘failed’ English or maths at 16, only to then demand that they should study these subjects beyond age 16 despite the low probability of improving their grade.

This report – the first of two major publications from EDSK on the future of assessment and accountability – concludes that a new approach is needed to create a coherent secondary education system built around external tests that encourage aspiration and progression for all pupils while reducing the burdens placed both on pupils and teachers.

The EDSK report recommends that:

  • By 2025, GCSEs should be replaced by national computer-based assessments in almost all National Curriculum subjects at age 15, which will operate as a halfway ‘staging post’ on every pupil’s journey through secondary education.
  • The computer-based assessments will typically last 1.5-2 hours for each subject, representing a significant reduction on the current norm of 3.5-4 hours per subject.
  • Existing National Curriculum subject entitlements up to the age of 14 should be extended to age 15, and all academies will be forced to follow the National Curriculum from the ages of 11 to 15.
  • The new computer-based assessments will match the rigour of GCSEs by testing pupils’ understanding of essential knowledge and key concepts listed in the current National Curriculum and GCSE specifications for each subject.
  • Each student will be awarded a ‘certificate’ that documents the results they have achieved in the new digital assessments for each subject, but no letter or number-based grades will be issued and the use of ‘comparable outcomes’ will be scrapped.
  • Pupils will choose which type of courses and qualifications (e.g. school, college or apprenticeship) they wish to pursue after age 15 based on the results of these new digital tests as well as advice given to them by teachers and careers advisors.

Tom Richmond100x100Tom Richmond, Director of EDSK and a former advisor to ministers at the Department for Education, said:

“GCSEs have been an important part of our education landscape for over three decades, but the unprecedented events of the last year have created a rare opportunity to consider how we can do things better in future. We should start by replacing high-stakes GCSEs with low-stakes digital assessments that act as a ‘staging post’ for pupils as they move through secondary education. The flexibility offered by these digital tests will also help to ‘COVID-proof’ our assessment system from any future external shocks.”

“Putting hundreds of thousands of pupils through up to 30 hours of GCSE exams in order to sort them and their schools into successes and failures each year is a terrible use of precious time and money. While rigorous external tests can help to drive up educational standards, the continued presence of GCSEs prevents meaningful conversations about how we can build a world-class education system up to the age of 18, not 16.”

An Ofqual review published in December found IT provision, network capability, security, planning and staffing issues are the five key barriers to greater adoption of online and on-screen assessments in high stakes qualifications such as GSCEs and A Levels.

This first report from EDSK on reforming assessment and accountability focuses on the initial stages of secondary education in England. Having analysed and reconfigured the new secondary system up to the age of 15 in this report, the next publication from EDSK (scheduled for Spring 2021) will consider how to design and implement the later years of secondary education so that they build on the same objectives and principles described in this report. This will include in-depth discussions of existing academic and vocational qualifications as well as the institutions that deliver them.

Bill Watkin100x100Regarding assessment at 16, Bill Watkin, Chief Executive, Sixth Form Colleges Association said:

"Government figures show that 70% of 16 year-olds in England change institution, with many progressing to colleges or swapping one school for another. That’s why it is really important to measure what young people know, understand and can do at that age. The idea that examinations might be replaced by a shorter, less high-stakes and more rounded assessment model is certainly something that should be considered as we emerge from the pandemic and question whether or not to reinstate longstanding systems and structures, and whether or not to take advantage of the opportunity to do things differently, and better." 

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

AELP Webinar Team added a new event 42 minutes ago

Recognising and supporting learners who are at risk of, or...

Overview This webinar is intended to explain the nature of harm and abuse caused to learners who may be at risk of, or have experienced sexual...

  • Wednesday, 06 October 2021 10:00 AM
  • Online

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page