Ditch A-Levels and GCSEs for new qualification, urges Tony Blair think tank

GCSEs and A-levels should be ditched in favour of a new qualification that better prepares school-leavers for the workplace, former Labour PM Tony Blair’s think tank has suggested.

The education system needs “radical” change if England’s students are to thrive in an economy shaped by automation and artificial intelligence, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) has said.

The TBI recommended replacing existing exams with a brand-new system that involves “rigorous” forms of continuous assessment between the ages of 16 and 18.

The think tank suggested a new qualification for 18-year-olds could “draw on and refine the principles” that underpin the International Baccalaureate, used by many other leading countries.

The current Ofsted rating system should be scrapped and the national curriculum should be placed into the hands of a non-political and independent body, according to the new TBI report.

The TBI recommended more emphasis on the so-called four Cs – critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaborative problem-solving – saying the existing set-up relies too much on “passive” forms of learning involving direct instruction and memorising.

In its report – Ending the Big Squeeze on Skills: How to Futureproof Education in England – the think tank suggested a series of low-stakes assessments for pupils at the end of secondary schooling, at the age of 16.

Current “high-stakes exams at the end of courses now dominate assessment, which promotes teaching to the test and narrow pedagogies”, it added.

The current focus on a small range of traditional academic subjects – dubbed the English Baccalaureate, or EBacc – means other subjects are crowded out, the report said, arguing that the result was that government reforms had damaged learning and “stifle efforts to improve social mobility”.

The think tank said an expert commission could reform the national curriculum, while the design of the curriculum could be transferred to a non-political, independent body.

Ofsted should be reformed and the current rating system scrapped to end “teaching to the test” and encourage more innovation in schools.

James Scales, skills policy lead at the TBI, said young people in England were receiving “an analogue education in a digital age” and too many pupils were leaving school ill-prepared for the workplace.

“While pupils elsewhere are learning how to think critically, communicate and solve problems as a group, our system remains anchored firmly in the past. This is holding back our young people and the country as a whole,” he said.

Mr Scales added: “Without the radical reform required to produce a new generation of forward-thinkers, we won’t build the high-wage, high-skilled economy we need.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the report added to growing calls for “fresh thinking” on qualifications, the curriculum and inspection.

The union leader said it was time to “remove the clutter of over-burdened timetables, reduce the ridiculously high-stakes nature of the current system and, most importantly, make sure that it works better for all children and young people”.

Mr Barton said reform was needed because at the existing rate of progress the attainment gap “will never close”. He added: “We need a system that looks to the future rather than one that is rooted in the past.”