Education ministers have stated that autonomy is at the heart of government policy and that they believe in a school-led system in which professional decisions (such as choice of qualifications, I assume) are left to professionals.
ASCL agrees with this, and it is why today’s announcement about the DfE decision to remove iGCSEs permanently from performance tables is so disappointing. It is indicative of the piecemeal and inconsistent approach to reform that makes it so difficult for school leaders to manage change effectively.
ASCL’s blueprint for a self-improving system proposes an independent commission for curriculum review which would analyse the curriculum framework every five years and advise the independent regulator on the suitability of qualifications. It would put decisions about curriculum and qualifications outside of ministerial control.
On numerous occasions coalition ministers have made a strong case for all schools to be allowed to offer the qualifications they felt were best suited to their students. An independent commissions would ensure that there is consistency and stability among qualifications and that they are relevant and appropriate for all students.
When the government removed iGCSEs from the performance tables earlier this year, the rationale was that they did not fit the new GCSE specification, but the door was left open. iGCSEs might be reintroduced if they were revised to fit the new GCSE standard.
Awarding bodies spent a large amount of time and invested heavily in adapting iGCSEs to meet new criteria. Some schools, understandably, started their planning for next year on the basis that iGCSEs would return to the performance tables. This wasted time and effort could have been avoided with a planned and well-communicated reform timetable.
A five-year review of qualifications would mean that schools, colleges and awarding bodies could plan effectively and prepare for changes to qualifications, rather than constantly trying to second guess the next announcement.
Today’s decision is also disappointing because yet again performance tables are being used to drive curriculum decisions rather than a consistent and planned programme of reform, based on a strong vision which encompasses all qualifications for all schools.
And it is disappointing that iGCSE will again become an examination solely for the independent sector in the way ministers criticised previously. That could seriously undermine the government’s high ambitions for the reformed GCSEs.
It is because of decisions like the one today that ASCL, together with a range of partners, introduced the alternative performance tables. We will certainly include the results of iGCSEs in these if schools wish to offer them.
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