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Compulsory academic GCSEs ‘a problem’ for some, says Ofsted chief

A key government policy to force all pupils to sit GCSEs in core academic subjects could be difficult for some students, the head of Ofsted has said.

Ministers want all pupils in England to study maths, English, science, one of history or geography and a modern language at GCSE.

But some young people “will find it a problem” Sir Michael Wilshaw, told the Times Educational Supplement (TES).

Sir Michael said vocational subjects would suit some pupils better.

In particular he questioned whether the academic subjects included in the government’s Ebacc would be the best thing for pupils who wanted to take apprenticeships when they left school.

“I can think of youngsters, even at the highest-performing schools, who will find it a problem and who would have been better suited to do English, maths and science and a range of vocational subjects,” he told the magazine.


In June, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan confirmed she wants all pupils to have to study the five traditional subjects included in the Ebacc school performance measure.

According to Mrs Morgan the move would ensure all pupils received a rigorous academic education and avoid pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds being put off academic subjects.

In addition, the Conservative manifesto pledges that schools which do not have 100% of pupils studying this set of subjects at GCSE should not be able to obtain Ofsted’s top rating of “outstanding”.

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Both policies will be subject to a government consultation later in the autumn.

Sir Michael told the TES he agreed more young people should be studying these subjects – but said the combination was not suitable for everyone.

Close up pliers and circuit board
Image copyrightThinkstock
Image captionPupils aiming at apprenticeships will be better served by doing more vocational subjects such as design technology, said Sir Michael

The Association of School and College Leaders, which represents secondary heads, welcomed Sir Michael’s challenge to government policy.

‘More flexible’

General Secretary Brian Lightman said the union shared his concerns.

He said a recent survey by the union found almost 90% of school leaders disagreed with making these subjects compulsory for all pupils.

“It is unfair on young people to take a one-size-fits-all approach to their education.

“We are concerned that creative, technology and vocational subjects will be squeezed out of the curriculum.”

Mr Lightman said the union would urge ministers to make the choice of GCSE subjects more flexible.

The Department for Education said an additional league table measure, Progress 8, allows pupils to study a wider range of subjects.

“As part of Progress 8, pupils will be able to study up to three of our new gold-standard Tech Awards which will provide a real foundation for progression on to vocational courses including apprenticeships,” said a spokesman.

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