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Calling time on GCSEs and arts to 18

26 February 2019

In February the Chair of the Education Select Committee, the President of the Royal Society, and the Director General of the CBI all called for sweeping reform to our 14-19 education. Proposals including abolishing GCSEs and external exams at 16, broadening the curriculum and studying arts subjects to 18. Read on for the details.

Robert Halfon MP, Chair of Education Select Committee calls for an end to GCSEs

Following on from their launch of Towards a Twenty-First Century Education System last October, the Edge Foundation continued its push for reform of 14-19 education in England with an event on 11 February. Robert Halfon MP, chair of the Education Select Committee and keynote speaker called for an end to GCSEs at 16.

Halfon and Edge pointed out that GCSEs are a hangover from when the school leaving age was 16, and distort our education system with expensive exams that draw time and energy away from a child’s education.

‘Now that we have raised the participation age, we must abandon GCSEs and move towards a holistic and far broader based baccalaureate at age 18.’

Robert Halfon MP


A range of evidence shows that employers are looking for communication, critical thinking, problem-solving and team-working skills, rather than those developed by our current system. Halfon called for GCSEs at 16 to be replaced with a holistic Baccalaureate at 18, and to change the accountability system to measure schools on the completion of the baccalaureate at 18, and on pupil destinations.

Royal Society calls for arts to be studied to age 18

The day after the Edge event, the president of the Royal Society Venki Ramakrishnan spoke at the Royal Society Business Forum, calling for an independent review of post-16 education, and saying A levels are outdated and do not provide the 21st century skills students need. He called for young people to study a broader range of subjects to 18:

'I am a scientist so you would expect me to say that everyone should be studying science and maths through age 18, but they need to sit alongside subjects like English, history, geography, modern languages and the arts as part of a new style of education that is available to everyone.'


The Royal Society has identified four key changes they believe need to be made to education, including studying:

A broad and balanced range of subjects from different disciplines. Science and maths need to sit alongside subjects like English, history, geography, modern languages and the arts as part of a new style of education that is available to everyone up to age 18.’

CBI calls for reform of education system

Also at the Royal Society Business Forum Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for rethink of 14-19 education, including removing GCSEs, and called for a curriculum that: ‘… fosters skills such as creativity, resilience, communication, and problem solving.’

You can watch Fairbairn’s speech calling for reform of our education system.

2 Replies to "Calling time on GCSEs and arts to 18"

  1. Would love to see some changes to the system and the inclusion of more creative subjects till 18. The way options were laid out for my year 11’er meant that he was only able to complete one arts-based GCSE out of 10. He recently told me that he finds narrowing down to three subjects very harsh as he would love to study more broadly. They are very young to be so directed, he will be studying all sciences and maths at A’Level but would love to continue to enjoy learning across other subjects too.

  2. At last , what all intelligent, informed and experienced educators have always known, that a real education is about many disciplines not a few and that the arts are as important to that as as any other !!
    How soon can we hope to see this implemented?

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