GCSE announcement justifies RSC assertions over slipping standards

17 September 2012

This afternoon's education announcement by Michael Gove and Nick Clegg has been welcomed at the Royal Society of Chemistry, which first raised the issue of standards in GCSE science exams five years ago.

From September 2007 the RSC repeatedly drew national attention to the need for reform, asserting that the future economic competitiveness of the UK was being undermined by slipping standards in education.

The RSC warned that lack of rigour in examinations contrasted starkly with the demands of other nations.

Only last month, the RSC - while welcoming an increase the numbers taking chemistry - called for  reform of the GCSE curriculum to enable teachers to inspire and engage science students in the future.

Professor Jim Iley, Executive Director of Science and Education, said after today's announcement: "The RSC has always said that issues with GCSEs  were not down to the pupils or the teachers, but to a flawed system. We welcome the proposal to have one exam board per subject, as that should prevent the erosion of standards that has come about through market competition. We are also pleased to note that there will be one qualification for everyone at 16 years old - at this age we need a system that is capable of developing a scientifically literate society while also being capable of developing and differentiating the able students who will go on to further study. The restriction on top grades should deliver such differentiation.

"However, we remain concerned about how, for a subject like chemistry, one exam will be able to adequately assess practical work; that's how the subject is studied and advanced. Practical work needs to drive learning rather than simply illustrate it, and the assessment system of any new qualification needs to reflect that.

"Indeed, whatever the system adopted, the nature of the assessment will be crucial, because assessment drives behaviours, of schools, of teachers and of students.

"Young people need, even want, to be challenged; they, and ultimately the country itself, benefit from being pushed harder."

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