Documents Reveal Margaret Thatcher Wary of GCSE System


Personal documents released from Great Britain's National Archive reveal that former Prime Minister of the UK Margaret Thatcher attempted to postpone the introduction of GCSEs because she felt they would lower standards in Britain's schools and instill a "can't fail" mentality among students.

Documents dated from 1985 and 1986 showed that Thatcher's response resonated the views of several Conservatives on the GCSE qualification doing little to change the two tier system created by the O Level and CSE examinations.

"This is not a correct judgement of the present examinations system. We were taught to think and apply 50 years ago."

During the middle of her premiership and six months before the implementation of the GCSE exams, she had written to her Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph voicing her concern and requesting its introduction to be delayed, reports ITV News political correspondent Emily Morgan.

Despite stating that she did not "like the sound of the new exam", she ceased her intervention and let the changes go ahead on the grounds that it would publicly contradict her close friend Sir Keith Joseph's authority and label her as siding with teaching unions (which demanded a longer period of preparation for the new system), writes Edward Malnick of The Telegraph.

Thatcher believed teacher aided coursework would lead to exam results that were misleading, due to the large mark density from coursework that was calculated in the final grade. Her views support the recent call by the UK's largest examination board and that of the Conservative head office 30 years back; for an end to GCSE grade dependency on coursework, claiming it to be cumbersome, open to abuse and "disliked by many teachers and loathed in some subjects".

The files also show she was firmly reminded that under her, education had remained fundamentally nationalized.

Thatcher had also asked for plans to introduce grant-aid schools, which were later implemented by her successors.

The examinations were implemented in September 1986 by then education secretary Kenneth Baker (now Lord Baker of Dorking) with the aims of creating a "clearer and fairer" system with the intention to focus on "how much or how little pupils understand, know and can do". The change came as a means to oppose the integrity of the previous O-Level and CSE system, which was criticized for awarding marks based on relative performance of competing candidates.

Recent education secretary Michael Gove blamed the exam's introduction for causing a dramatic fall in education standards and has labeled its implementation as a "historic mistake", addressing "the pernicious damage caused by grade inflation and dumbing down" caused by the exams.

Gove recognized the absurdity of the discrimination present in the new system diminishing the promised equality of opportunity of the children within it, and cancelled any coursework components from the exams in the near future.

The exams continue to be a threat to future generations, with expectations of large scale collapses of grades, children learning less, lesser proficient writers and mathematicians, and lack of jobs for individuals with the potential to be competent teachers and managers, writes Phil Beadle of The Guardian.

Business group CBI, an organization which speaks on behalf of 190,000 businesses, has prioritized terminating the exams and replacing them with tailor made learning plans and apprenticeships in their 2015 goals of cementing Britain's place in the world.

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