Commenting on today’s results, Nansi Ellis, Assistant General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“It is a major concern, however, that according to NEU members the assessment method of the reformed GCSEs is significantly worse for the mental health of students – with 73% of members saying this. (1) Removing coursework and having most subjects assessed entirely by exams taken at the end of Year 11 makes GCSEs an all-or-nothing, high stakes experience for students, completely unnecessarily, and focuses study on what will be best for passing the exam, rather than on developing a wider skill set.

“To add to this, both the difficulty and size of GCSE content has increased with the reforms. The result is that the majority of schools are feeling forced to start GCSE courses in Year 9, or even earlier, with a view to getting through everything.

“This alone leads to a narrower curriculum for students, however it is made worse by the 30% decline in entries in non-EBacc subjects such as the arts, music, design and technology, PE, RE and social studies since 2016. This decline can be attributed to Government accountability measures such as the EBacc and Progress 8, which force schools to focus on core academic subjects regardless of the interests of students, and to the inadequate funding of schools and colleges imposed by Conservative-led Governments.

“The current system has so many negative side effects that a re-think is sorely needed. As a start, schools should be freed from the straitjackets of Progress 8 and EBacc and empowered to act upon their professional expertise in helping students decide which courses to take.

“Academics, think tanks and political figures from across the sector, such as former Education ministers and the current chair of the Education Select Committee, are joining education professionals in calling for the scrapping of these measures. Besides the narrowing of the curriculum they cause, many have pointed out how they simply do not, and no matter the tinkering will not accurately measure school effectiveness, rendering them unfit for purpose.”

Editor’s Note:

  1. Reformed GCSEs are damaging the mental health of young people, and failing to accurately reflect their abilities, 21 August 2019:



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