Should we bring back O-Levels from the grave? Or plod along with GCSE? The way forward

The current debate instigated by Michael Gove on whether to bring back the O-level by the secretary of state for Education, has once again aroused passion about the way our Education system is structured and how well it is working.

Whenever the issue of educating young people comes up, one aspect which always comes to the fore is the class system, and the question of a two-tier system of education. I doubt whether there is much value in addressing education matters via a discussion about the class system – and all that palaver! The reality is that the class system exists everywhere in the world; it merely differs in its character as one crosses national boarders.

It is good to be nice, and to be seen to be nice by appearing to be inclusive and talking about the unfairness of a two tier system. Complacency is what society cannot afford. In 20 years’ time, a huge proportion of the population will be over the age of 65 and it would be of great value if we can ensure that the young generation is prepared for the challenges we face in a global economy. The status quo is a road we can ill afford to take. Employers are queuing up to condemn the level of literacy and numeracy among young people. You could accuse them employers of all sorts of things, but the reality is that they have a point, and a strong one too.

As someone who has taught in various types of mainstream schools in Britain, from the so called good comprehensive’ in Wath-Upon-Dearne (in the S…….. Republic of South Yorkshire!) to an independent school in the hills of Surrey, I know that our young people are simply not challenged enough and this fact pervades social backgrounds. Excellence is often the new word for mediocrity’ and good’ really means sufficient’. Restoring the gold standard is vital, if it ever existed. It does not matter how this is done, whether it is by strengthening the GCSE system by way of introducing a more advanced tier, or by resurrecting O-level from its grave!

It is possible that bringing back the O-level will address some of the issues surrounding a lack of basic skills and improve standards over all. My own view is that whether you call it GCSE or O-level, the problem of young people not having the required literacy and numeracy skills must be tackled. We must get away from juggling these words and formats of GCSE and O-level, which merely serve to grab headlines and excite people across the political spectrum.

What really matters is that a high standard is maintained. It seems to me that one way we can do this is to bring back O-level standard in order to challenge our young people. The existing GCSE format has two tiers and what could be done is to introduce an even more advanced tier, more challenging than the existing higher tier. The alternative is to take the bold step of bringing back O-level. Either of these two options should be perfectly capable of getting the job done and I really do not mind which of the two it is. Whatever is introduced must be widely available to young people, which is another issue. Either of the above solutions will raise the key question: Where does it leave the existing AS level? I intend to explore this in my blog next week.

Below are links to some of my past blogs on related issues:

What do you think? Should we bring back O Levels? How else can standards be maintained and increased? Please add your comments below.

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