IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


What if... we got rid of GCSEs?

29 April 2021, 5:45 pm–6:45 pm

Rows of empty desks set up for exams in Portsmouth Grammar School (CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr)

Is the GCSE system intrinsically flawed, or simply a victim of the high-stakes accountability system in which it sits? If it really has no benefits to offer, what could its demise offer to young people’s education?

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Kate Thomas

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The General Certificate of Secondary Education, or GCSE, has been in the firing line for some time.

These exams, taken at age 16, have been a lightning rod for accusations of declining standards and grade inflation in our schools system, and successive governments have variously attempted to shore up their currency and reduce their sway over the secondary school curriculum. Ever since the ‘education participation age’ was raised to 18, from 2015, the GCSE has also been called into question in and of itself, as a now unnecessary staging post.

And now, as with so many areas of life, the Covid-19 pandemic has had its own impact on the matter, with the ‘exams crisis’ and wider disruption to pupils’ learning from 2020 renewing the debate about whether exams at age 16 still serve any useful purpose. Would removing GCSEs make much difference in the absence of other changes, including to assessment at age 18?


  • Tina Isaacs, Honorary Associate Professor of Educational Assessment, UCL Institute of Education (IOE).
  • Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development, Cambridge Assessment.
  • Dennis Sherwood, Managing Director of Silver Bullet.
  • Gill Wyness, Associate Professor of Economics, and Deputy Director of the Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, IOE.
  • Chair: Mary Richardson, Associate Professor of Educational Assessment, IOE.

Find out about the speakers of this debate. Join the conversation on Twitter at #IOEDebates


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Image: Portsmouth Grammar School (CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr)