The Spectator

School report | 14 March 2019

The merits of GCSEs, wellbeing lessons and why kids should learn a language

School report | 14 March 2019
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Should we scrap GCSEs?

A senior MP has suggested getting rid of GCSEs and reshaping A-levels altogether; but not everyone agrees. Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, wants to rewrite the exam system so that A-levels include a mixture of vocational, academic and arts subjects, arguing that ‘all the concentration should be on the final exam before you leave’.

‘All young people should have access to the technical and creative subjects that will give them the skills that employers are looking for,’ says Halfon. ‘We must move from knowledge-rich to knowledge-engaged.’ The Department for Education, on the other hand, shows no sign of dropping GCSEs, describing them as ‘the gold standard qualification at age 16 and a passport to further study and employability’.

A focus on wellbeing

The government recently announced that, as of next year, all children will be taught how to look after their mental wellbeing as well as recognise when classmates are struggling. ‘Growing up is hard enough, but the internet and social media add new pressures that just weren’t there even one generation ago,’ said Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

Many schools are ahead of the game, already focusing on pupils’ mental health with a particular focus on how children spend their time online. In February, Cumnor House staged its annual Wellbeing Day, where it showcased its wellbeing curriculum and hosted an evening seminar for parents and the wider community. At Roedean, a number of girls have attended training courses on how to handle their digital lives. These ‘ambassadors’ then teach the rest of the school, including staff, how best to deal with the pressures of social media and life online.

Language lessons

A recent study by the BBC has revealed that foreign language studies at secondary school level are at their lowest level for 18 years. The survey showed that the numbers studying French and German at GCSE have dropped by 45 per cent since 2001. Spanish, on the other hand, has seen an increase of 75 per cent at GCSE level.

A number of schools said that languages were perceived as being ‘too difficult’. In England, the government is investing in Mandarin teaching, and Education Minister Nick Gibb has said 5,000 children were ‘on track to fluency’ in Mandarin by 2020.