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Fresh proposals on the future of GCSEs announced by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, have resulted in a storm of comment throughout the media. The proposals which will largely replace course work with a single exam at the end of the year are, according to Mr Gove, aimed at “making GCSEs more demanding, more fulfilling, and more stretching” to “give our young people the broad, deep and balanced education which will equip them to win in the global race”
Whilst the proposals have been generally welcomed as a way of reversing the accusations of “dumbing down” which have beset exams in recent years, the return to a single exam has reawakened the debate over whether simply having to memorise facts will equip young people for the world outside.
In truth, the balance between the need to retain and apply knowledge and the ability to research and extract facts from other sources will depend on the nature of the work undertaken. In medicine we would generally expect our doctors to have learnt about diseases and the human body and to be able to apply that knowledge. Conversely, when looking for an insurance quote we rely far more on following screen prompts and questions with complex algorithms being processed via computer in the background. Other tasks may require us to be empathetic and able to talk with anyone or may call on skills in music or drama or sport which we were born with and have honed over the years.
Whether or not the proposals result in a better equipped workforce will be revealed in time. In the meantime, employers can play their part by taking time to understand what skills, learnt or otherwise, are required to carry out tasks and to hire and nurture employees who are best able to carry out those tasks.
In many instances employers would do well to ignore exam success and engage for cultural fit and for likely engagement in the organisation. When the employees suit the work; and the work suits and engages the employees, that’s when success will come.